It is another superbly artistic evening in the NoHo arts district and I have been invited to review yet another play at the Mirror Theatre (Avery Schreiber/Magic Mirror Theatre—curiously enough they seem to change their name nearly every time I am invited to review for them, hmmm). The fare for the evening waxes most intriguing to me; a post Halloween thriller combined with high school redemption tale in the guise of the world premiere play, “High School Ghost Story”. Only when I arrive at the venue it is fittingly, yet ironically its own ghost town, locked up tight as a drum, totally dark and harboring zero people on the street in the surrounding vicinity. I’ve checked and double checked the time, date and place. I’m totally in the right but everyone else, it seems, including any and additional ambient audience members go the memo. I feel as though I am in some weird Twilight Zone episode/parallel universe wherein they just wanted one reviewer to arrive a la “Six Characters in Search of an Author” meets “Five Characters in Search of an Exit” makes contact with “One Reviewer in Search of an Entry” coupled with some sort of Beckett script a la “Waiting for Godot” or no, make that, “Waiting for ‘Waiting for Godot’”. Little do I know how poignantly this scenario will mirror the remainder of my evening.
Two men approach, as if out of nowhere, on the otherwise deserted sidewalk. They advance as if sent unto me by the spirit of Rod Serling himself and ask me what I am doing out in front of the forsaken theatre. I tell them. They inform me, despite the fact that they are curiously walking in the incorrect direction (for no apparent reason whatsoever), that they are reviewing another play down the street and if I want I can join them…
The Limecat Family Theatre smells intensely of Nag Champa—the type of incense I truly enjoy and the only kind I could ever think to eat if that were such an option; akin to vanilla and maple sugared oats it smells… Zombie Joe of “Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre Group” greets me warmly with a hug and a press packet. The theatrical lobby is decorated in decapitated heads, skulls, skeletons, fake vultures, buried treasure with a dismembered Ernie from Sesame Street puppet thrown in as a seeming, yet central, afterthought. At the end of my theatre-bound expedition across the lobby Nag Champa would be the last thing I would expect it to smell like, incongruously enough—particularly if the grisly scene were actualized… *shudder* *shudder* and perish the thought…
An equally friendly and likewise dark-haired Sebastian takes me to my seat and introduces me to what will be my world for the next “four hours”—nay really only “55 minutes” he adds with a laugh. I inform him Sebastian is my cat’s name. He tells me my presence at the theatre must then be Kismet as he gives me a great, big bear hug—which I guess would denote the difference between this Sebastian and my cat, bear hugs vs. cat cuddles.
The evening’s tale begins like something reminiscently reverse of the hit film “Misery” and eventually collapses in on itself like an M.C. Escher drawing —Yes, Escheresque theatre at its finest if the man had ever delved into playwriting.
The lights come up on noted author Wallace J. (W.J.) Trumbull played by a deliciously crusty and fittingly self-assured Matthew Sklar. The grizzled man sits at an antique Smith Corona and, rather than type, listens to World Series, Game 7 on the radio, his activity and psyche ostensibly mirrored by the game as the younger of the two sports casters quotes his writings. “Wonderful, I’ve become associated with the most annoying and pretty commentator in baseball!” quips Trumbull just as (as if in answer to his grievance) there is a power outage. (From this point on, the baseball game will be turned on and off throughout the play up until the “25th inning”.)
In the midst of searching another portion of the house for an old transistor radio, an interloper appears from the ceiling in the form of a young girl in her twenties.
“There’s only one piece of furniture you could actually hide behind” exclaims Trumbull upon re-entry, “Somebody here?”
“No.” declares the young woman sheepishly.
Enter (from behind the couch) ambient young author Mildred (Millie) Smith played strongly and aptly comedically timed by Katherine Canipe. She is vibrant, tenacious and has written a 714 page novel (her first) she begs the venerable old writer to read. “Man that’s quite a behemoth you’ve got there!” exclaims Trumbull. “Now just leave it on my desk.” Millie refuses as it is her only copy. She then goes on to confess that it will be published only if Trumbull writes the forward as she promised Randolph Publishing. As an additional ‘sticking point’ she then confesses “I told them you were my grandfather… Haven’t you ever been where I am?”
“Standing in someone’s library?” answers Trumbull, then adding, “I haven’t written a novel in the last fifty years.”
“Not to use the gift that makes you unique is a sin against God!” declares Millie.
Trumbull asserts that if Smith wants her novel read, she leave it with him. She insists on being present while he reads it, or, “I could read it to you.” Millie remains steadfast despite Trumbull’s adamant logistics in part because “it’s a story about what’s happening right now…”
Millie then goes on to confess that Trumbull’s book changed her life. Her first introduction was as a child when, as an antidote to block the trauma of her parents’ fights she would go up to the attic and lose herself in books. From the lyrical opening line of Trumbull’s manuscript she was hooked, “Attack the day gently Child, it means you no harm…” “When I finished the book (day had turned to night and the world had changed) the oak tree, everything had moved a foot to the left, the mailbox, the house next door…” Her second venture into the work of literature would come in college, wherein she would begin the novel at night and wake up to find the sun shining whereupon she would discover thereafter, “the city outside had moved a foot to the right.”
“I liked the story.” Declares a stoic Trumbull.
“I made it up.” Admits Millie.
“Well which is it?” Implores Trumbull.
“Which will get you to read my novel?” demands the budding starlet.
The remainder of the play unfolds as Millie unravels the mystery of who Trumbull is to her. She knows the book like the back of her hand but calls Trumbull out when he cannot recollect a shift change in narration between the mother and the son that only appears in the first printing. “If the mother in the book is a figment of his imagination, who is the boy, a figment of her imagination?” Millie muses while waxing fairly certain that the shift in narration in the original was no mistake.
From here on out, the play implodes in on itself and the mystery of the novel comes to the forefront, its authorship, who the characters are, symbolically and in actuality—or not. “And you say this whole thing is based on this encounter.” Repeats Trumbull of Millie’s novel. “How does it end, comedically…tragically…?”
Like Schrodinger’s Cat, (like a tree falling in the forest only to make an inaudible sound) it could be said to exhibit both endings but it will never be for certain until a new audience opens the door to the ‘box’—the black box theatre that is, that houses this thought provoking presentation until it is next performed.
“Breaking and Entering” can be witnessed at The Limecat Family Theatre/Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, CA 91601, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:30 pm, November 15th, 16th, 22nd, 23rd and 29th. Reservations: 818-202-4120. Tickets: $15.00.