Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Birthmark

OK, this is a pure me-me-me post, somewhat contrary to the prinicpal intent of LoS, but I'd like to put some photos out there to document some stuff I was up to in times past....

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, obsessed

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


  1. I'm thinking this must have been 1998, no? We moved in 1999... K

    1. You must be right because we left Jemez in August or late July. Good photos, eh? The overall look of the set is pretty cool. Punk rock Hawthorne....

  2. Yeah the photos are's nice she still had them! I stopped by the theater last year--it's now Ted's gallery. Nice space. It's funny how seeing that cover brings back such a flood of memories. Good times! I was telling ghost stories from the Jemez House the other night.

    1. Glad to hear Ted's doing well. I like his photos. The colors are more vivid than life, but the exaggeration does the "reality" justice, I think. Hard to imagine, if you've never been there, so his eye helps you get a vicarious sense of how it is to stand before one of those red mesas against that stark and deep blue sky. I remember Tim scoffed when I told him how "big" the sky is in NM, but he later told me that yeah, in fact, the sky is bigger out west. Such amazing long vistas, like you could see for hundreds of miles.

      Do tell about the ghost stories. You should write up another post for us about that. I'm not very motivated at the moment as faras that goes. I've been working up some sculpture/assemblages though. When I get back from my trip I'm going to try and do a show of them, plus some old collages, maybe some photos of things in the house I can't transport. I'm glad that part of my creative energy is back in action. I was afraid I'd let it all dither away.

      I've got some stuff from my recent jaunt to Lisbon I might write up, but I'm a bit written out. I haven't done any poems in years, now the blog-type stuff has also begun to dry up. It'll come back, but I'd like to keep up with the blog somehow....guest writers for example. Lot's of interesting traditions and folklore from NM to work with, but it seems far away to do it right.


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