Back in 1999, when I was living in Jemez Springs, NM, a drunken night found me doing some improv at the then-fledgling Gas Station Theater [still around?] with my pal José. Impressed with our vignette about a dying robot on the surface of Mars (!), the director immediately asked me to put together a play to present for Classic Spooky Stories Pt. 1, the first of a planned annual Halloween show of short plays. Being drunk, I agreed on the spot. I then spent the next several weeks finding both a play to perform and a cast, getting the set and the visual look together and then, rehearsals. We took it seriously but had a blast; we were democratic, but my vote counted twice so to speak. Something like a veto that could not be overridden. It was community theater, let's be real, but I think we did a pretty good job and injected a bit of avant-garde into a fairly straightforward story. Not a simple one, though. Like many of Hawthorne's works, The Birthmark is rich in symbolism, allegory and metaphysical musing.
This story, first published in 1843, revolves around two characters, Alymer, a natural philosopher, and his wife Georgina. Alymer's assistant Aminadab has a smaller role but is important nonetheless as both a symbol and a counterpoint to the tragically-obsessed Alymer.
The tale turned out to be rather easy to adapt and practically wrote itself. The dialogue of the play was straight from the story, except for a few additions at the end, which would have otherwise required "heavy-handed" narration to make sense of the action. So I invented a few lines to push it along. With three characters and three settings, it was easy to stage. To avoid heavy scene changes we put all these settings onto one stage, divided by lighting and color motifs. When one scene was being played out, we lit it up that part of the stage and darkened the rest. The lights and sets were decorated with the primary colors. Alymer's lab was lit in blue and his table draped in blue felt; the drawing room was likewise draped in red and Aminadab's forge was in yellow. Each featured a votive candle of the same color. The characters also dressed in the corresponding color, going so far as to dye their hair.
They did a great job, by the way. They really put a lot of time and effort into it. Easy and fun folks to work with. Korlee, aka Georgina, was kind enough to make these photos available.
We even manged some nifty special effects: spinning spiral dics which were activated at a dramatic moment and remained spinning until Georgina dies, under Alymer's spell to the end. When Alymer photographs Georgina (a real photo each time), an enormous illuminated hand lit up the back of the set (an idea inspired by a set designed by Jim Morrison while at FSU). This red hand became more brilliant as the lights faded at the end; as Georgina dies, it too fades. We even had a flower which came to life and then died, a kind of marionette manipulated from backstage with an invisible length of fishing line. I ran the light-board and did the narration, using a free hand to make sound effects with some chimes. These little touches added a lot, I think; they were certainly fun to make and manipulate. On the night of the biggest performance, the brother of the actor who portrayed Alymer played improvised music on a wheezy old piano, to great effect. Except for a false start on the first night due to a technical malfunction with the flower's guy-wire, a brief moment of chaos which a more-experienced actor wouldn't have stopped the show for (the show must go on and the like), it went off pretty damn well.
On a personal note, I only now realize these were the earliest inklings of my interest in triangles, the story being a kind of dialectic....and dismebodied hands....
Anyway, short of going into my interpretation of the story, I'd merely like to share these photos, which I've only recently seen after all these years. Anyone wanting to perform this play should leave a comment. I've got the script in my archives and would be more than happy to share it, as well as any tips on set design. Of course, anyone interested could stage it anyway they wanted. Or use these photos as a template.
Since this play my only other experience in the theater is running the light and sound for a another show of one-acts at Ithaca's (NY) Firehouse Theatre (defunct since 2002) and watching my wife perform in an avant-garde dance-theater troupe, Pasina et Cie. Maybe one day she'll pick it back up again. Or maybe we can adapt The Birthmark yet again, into French....
Enjoy the photos.
|Aminadab - Georgina - Alymer, cast photo|
|Alymer - Aminadab - Georgina, cast photo|
|Alymer vows to remove the hand-shaped stain (larger than life in the background)|
|Georgina, on the verge of death, observes the disappearing birthmark|
|Alymer soothes Georgina, who has become upset by the stain on her cheek|
|Aminadab needs a little convincing|
|Kora, Daurade, Carl|
|The program, cover|
|Credits and thanks|