The play is “White or The Musk Ox Play,” and its premise of life, death, grief and letting go has fascinated Laguna Beach playwright Lojo Simon since its 2012 performance at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC.
Simon calls the play by Jonathan Fitts “a universal story of grief and memory,” and has scheduled a one-night 7 p.m. performance Tuesday, Jan. 26, at 2173 Laguna Canyon Road, the studio of painter Sandra Jones Campbell. “The play struck an emotional note,” she added, without giving personal specifics.
“White…” will feature five actors including Mark Miller, known locally as the assistant executive director of the Friendship Shelter as well as a seasoned actor and director.
The story focuses on Bon, a young woman transporting her father’s ashes through the white of Alaska. Reaching a bridge, a musk ox blocks her progress, unleashing a stream of memories filled with conversations between her and her father.
Miller takes up the role as musk ox, the metaphorical beast standing for the power of the subconscious to channel past emotional experiences.
After the performance, Andrea Deerheart, PhD, founder of The Heart Way, end of life care planners in Laguna Beach, will lead a discussion about life, death and the nature of grief.
“The play is provocative since it recalls the complexity of our feelings regarding life and death. When someone dies, we get initiated on the journey, one that often encourages us to question the meaning of life,” Deerheart said.
“Memories, feelings, unfinished business get amplified in this process. The story does a beautiful job of taking us down the rabbit hole with Bon as she attempts to spread her father’s ashes and is stopped in her tracks by her memories her feelings, her fears embodied by the musk ox,” said Deerheart.
On March 1, Simon will also stage a reading of her own play, “One Foot.” The plot centers on a man who awakes finding that he is missing one foot and the ramifications of such a crippling metamorphosis.
“It is a love story which I wrote for my partner,” said Simon. “In it, I want to explore honesty, acceptance and intimacy in relationships.”
The two-person play will feature actors Ben Farrow and Ava Burton, who have performed together in “Shakespeare’s Fool,” the locally produced farce by Jason Feddy and John Gardiner. “It is going to be a minimalist play with lots of silences,” said Simon. “I wanted to explore what is not said and invite audience participation by engaging their imagination,” she added.
Describing the piece as non-linear, going back and forth in time, she said: “Any day you wake up and you don’t know what’s going to happen, anything can change your life.”
A literary consultant at the Laguna Playhouse, Simon counts artistic director Ann E. Wareham as a mentor who, in turn, praised her keen eye for new plays and wonderful sensibility for written work. “She really has got an incredible knack for finding material that speaks to people,” said Wareham. “I am also interested in the dialogue she brings into a room; that is what is interesting about her reading series. An opportunity to have conversations about a play’s subject matter brings it all full circle,” she said.
“Sandra’s studio is a great space for alternative theater,” explained Simon who has staged two previous readings at the spacious venue situated between the Laguna Canyon Winery and a classic car show room.
Filled with eclectic furnishings reminiscent of theater props, as well as Jones Campbell’s paintings, the place has a theatrical vibe that the artist describes as “narrative paintings of people in various ways of social adventure.” “Often, my work is inspired by silent movies where viewers have to fill in the words,” Jones Campbell said. “They are two-dimensional theater, in a sense.”
New stage works are emerging elsewhere in the county. Chapman University holds the OC-centric New Play Festival, staged for the last five summers, featuring full-length productions by emerging local playwrights.
Camino Real Playhouse holds its “24 Hour Creative,” a marathon challenging six emerging playwrights to create a short work within 24 hours. Auditions begin Friday, Feb. 5, at 8 p.m. and the work is performed at 8 p.m. the following night.
Simon continues her mission to bring alternative theater into her hometown, calling her latest creations Bare Bones Theater.
“People want to be engaged, they are hungry for dialogue,” she said. “Coming together as a community, to participate in the art form and the art of conversation extends content and its meaning, elevating discussion over the mechanics of the play. It’s not just about the bones but about the meat.”
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