San Diego, CA—-Credit has to be given to Ion’s founding fathers Claudio Raygoza (founding artistic director and Jack of all trades) and Glenn Paris (producing artistic director) for their keen eye and astute sensibility when it comes to mounting plays in their tiny (99 seat black box) theatre that in a past life was otherwise known as 6th @ Penn. Seven years ago they created a theatre haven for the different, daring, difficult and diverse and never looked back.
Now, through Sept. 15th Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s The Mystery Plays, the current offering, is mystery with a different twist and a topic with a theme not quite yet seen in Ion’s repertoire. It’s a talky (as opposed to action filled) and ‘other worldly’ spin that holds the attention and will generate lots of conversation among the believers and those not so inclined.
The mystery of The Mystery Plays is not the who-done-it type mystery; it’s more the mystery of the mind, body and soul, if you will. The mystery is the mystery of the unknown, of the super natural or the paranormal and if that excites you more than a who-done-it, then this is just what the doctor ordered.
Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s Mystery Plays aren’t the only offbeat plays in his repertoire. He wrote Say You Love Satan a romantic comedy spoof on The Omen. He is also a screenwriter, and comic book writer best known for his work for Marvel Comics’ ‘Fantastic Four’, for the HBO drama Big Love and he adapted the comics for the Stephen King novel The Stand.
The fine ensemble for this production includes Sherri Allen, Benjamin Cole, Gemma Grey, Nick Kennedy, John Polak and Ethan Tapley who all star in both plays that piggyback each other, sort of. Both have a narrator forewarning what’s to come a la Alfred Hitchcock or Rod Serling. He is…The Mystery Man! (John Polak)
Briefly, in Act I, The Filmmaker’s Mystery a filmmaker, Joe, a likeable chap (Ethan Tapley) and a stranger Nathan, a little creepy (Benjamin Cole), who claims to be neurologist, meet on a train and form an instant bond. Joe is headed to his sisters in Newport News for the holidays but lives in New York. Nathan lives in New York as well.
They arrange a luncheon date for the day after Christmas, exchange phone numbers and chat about their respective jobs/professions. On his way back from the café car beer in hand for his new friend Nathan, Joe feels a strange force pulling him off the train and on to the platform in Wilmington where everything is deserted. Before Joe knows it, the train pulls out of the station without him on it. Later he learns that the train burst into flames killing every passenger aboard. Joe is the lone survivor.
Things go from eerie to eerier as the detective investigating the fire and ultimate deaths determines that All fifty eight passengers aboard the train died in the fire leaving Joe to wonder if he is, in fact dead or alive and why he was ‘chosen’ to survive.
And so we are taken down the path of whose soul is worth saving and it looks like Joe is the chosen one since Nathan, he discovers, is not as he claimed to be. “Why me?” asks Joe. “Why of all the people aboard, why did I step off the train?” If you are into these deep philosophical queries, you may be able to help Joe out.
The second play Ghost Children wrestles with forgiveness, absolution and redemption, which is a little bit out of my league as it is something almost foreign to me (but I’m working on it). That said this story is an all too familiar one about abused children killing their parents and then looking for forgiveness from the survivors. But is the survivor complicit? Is she the one who needs absolution? Read on.
Ben (Nick Kennedy) and his sister Abby (Gemma Grey) were so abused by their parents that Ben threatened to kill his parents on several occasions. At seventeen he had had it. He took a baseball bat and methodically bashed his parent’s heads to smithereens. When younger sister Becky walked in on the mayhem, he struck her as well. When he told Abby what he had done all she could ask about was “what of Becky?”
Years later Abby, now an attorney herself, is headed to Oregon to face her brother for the first time since the killings. She is asked to testify at a hearing for him. His new attorneys claim he did not get a fair trial to begin with. Along with that request is a letter from her brother asking for a reunion and to be forgiven. God, he knows, has already forgiven him.
The story is not new and the details are as grizzly and disturbing as any you might read about or see in the news but what gives this piece credence is Gemma Grey’s performance as Abby; it is perfectly executed with dark and light shades of confidence as she shifts between adult and teenager.
Her story and Ben’s jag back and fourth in time from the time they were fifteen and seventeen and living under the same roof in the family home, to Abby’s making a statement for the defense team, to an adult Ben still out of touch with reality and finally to Abby’s hearing a message from the grave from her parents and Becky. Both Grey and Kennedy play well off each other.
Sherri Allen, Nick Kennedy and John Polak, who take on different characters in each of the plays, give strong performances. They stand out among the company making the stories so much more intense especially Polak’s larger than life characters, The Mystery Man and the sheriff.
With Glenn Paris’ deft direction, Karin Filijan’s lighting that adds to the ghostly atmosphere and Claudio Ragoyza’s excellent projections and silhouettes that make the visuals a bit more mysterious, we are led into the unknown that might lie beyond… and what a trip.
For something different, The Mystery Plays are a good bet.
See you at the theatre.
Dates: through Sept. 15th
Organization: Ion Theatre Company
Phone: 619-600-5020 x 5
Production Type: Mystery Plays
Where: 3704 6th Avenue, San Diego, Ca 92103
Ticket Prices: $20.00-$33.00