Friday, September 15, 2023

Ghost Land (review)


Spoilers ahoy!

We all know a terrible war (well, most of them qualify) is taking place between Russia and Ukraine.  CityGarage commissioned a play about this horrible series of on-going events from Ukrainian writer Andriy Bondarenko.

Ghost Land, directed by Frederique Michel, emerges as a series of vignettes which at first seem to have little in common.  Yes they all deal with this particular war, and from the side of those whose nation has been invaded, but other than that...

But this is almost deceptive.  Increasingly we see how all these emerge naturally from one another as naturally as the denizens of a forest.  Eventually.  When the final revelation comes, it hits like thunderclap.  

No, I'm not going to tell you what it is.

Instead I will recall and paraphrase a quote from Joseph Campbell.  "Dreams are the mythology of the individual.  Just as mythology is the dreams of the society."  I agree with this, noting it is even true of day dreams.  Even more of nightmares.

The first vignette is "The Butterfly" and initially features Lura (David E. Frank) and a Doctor (Andy Kallok) discussing the former's trauma on the battlefield.  Or at least this vignette's prologue does, before it switches to the battle, the trenches, the horrific flashbacks of sudden death and wild fantasies coupled with strangely fantastic messages, with fellow soldiers and his girl friend--a character that may or may not return later.  Each of these ends with a twist worthy of the Twilight Zone.  I will note the first one involves H.G.Wells' The War of the Worlds.

Lot of little references like that in here.

"The Dowry" involves Kallock as a father in small Ukrainian village who didn't get out before the snows or before the Russian troops arrived.  He and his wife Maria (Juliet Morrison) look after their silent, pregnant, and ever-knitting daughter Halia (Léa De Carmo).  Almost instantly I saw the red thread Halia was knitting, making something her parents cannot fathom, and wondered if she were somehow channeling the Fates of various mythologies.  Especially amid discussions of wolf-like ghouls of legend in the nearby woods.  When two soldiers (Anthony Sannazzaro and Isaac Stackonis) working for the Russian Army--even though one of them is a local Ukrainian--I got my answer.  Yes.

"Crime and Punishment" ends the trilogy of vignettes, with Iulia (Angela Beyer) arriving in a room and matter of factly putting down her backpack then sitting down.  Soon enough Gennadiy (Gifford Irvine) shows up with a small suitcase, radiating a sadistic glee.  He is here to torture her, get her to confess to crime that she obviously did not commit, in fact never happened.  But...something is off.  She is strong, with a courage worthy of the greatest heroes.  He revels in what is a fantastic portrayal of vicious evil.  Yet something feels not quite right, somehow out of balance, something is not as it seems.  When we learn the truth, it is a revelation and starts to put the entire play into a new, vibrant perspective.

This last vignette functions with an epilogue, again with the same Doctor as before, and here the full context of all we've experienced since the lights came up at the start becomes clear.  I was shaken.  Among other things, the play ceased to be about just what is happening in Ukraine or even about the hell of modern war.  It became about me, and you, and everyone who has ever had to endure the trauma of real evil.  Of those moments when the worst of us turn this earth into a real Hell.

More, how do we heal after that?

Be warned--this play is often grim, disturbing, and deeply depressing.  As it must be.

Ghost Land plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 4pm until October 15, 2023 at Bergamot, T1 Space, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica, CA 90404

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