Is “Death Play” Going to Make Me Sad?

Wall_2The title is a hard sell.

The first time I took my seat to watch this piece, in Son of Semele’s Solo Creation Festival last fall, I was nervous. I’ve known Lisa for years– since she was Circle X’s intern through the LA County Arts Internship Program in 2008– and I trust her as a human and an artist, but I was also familiar with what she’s experienced over the past few years.

Lisa lost both of her parents and her grandmother by age 25. She was by her mother’s and grandmother’s sides as they deteriorated and eventually passed. Afterward, she traveled the world to try to process not only her losses, but her relationship to both death and life.

This didn’t seem like something I was quite ready to experience in a one-person show.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. For me, Death Play was a way to explore my own assumptions and attitudes toward grief and loss… but it was enjoyable. It was theatrical. It was just a great freaking story.

unspecifiedWhen Circle X got the chance to produce the World Premiere of Death Play, we jumped on it. We’re thrilled to work with a creative team that includes director Jessica Hanna, scenic and lighting designer Kirk Wilson, sound designer Jeff Gardner and costume designer Ann Closs-Farley.

Each of them, like me, had a visceral and passionate response to the piece. It’s been a joy working with this group on the project. As Kirk puts it, “Lisa has written something unique, refreshing, brave and actually quite funny. Death Play is a lot like life that way. As deep as the subject matter is, it’s been a fun room to be in.”

So to answer the question posed by the title: maybe.

But “sad” is much too simple an emotion to capture the piece’s power. It’s much closer to watching the movie Inside Out, when I felt like I was experiencing every emotion at once. Watching the festival presentation was one of only three times I’ve ever left a play and had to take five minutes alone behind the theatre to gather myself before I could talk to anyone (the other two were Nine Circles at Bootleg in 2011 and Bad Apples at Circle X in 2012, if you’re curious).

I asked creative team members to tell me what the piece inspires in them.

Lisa (writer/performer): “Working on this play has made me think about how truly spectacular it is to be alive and to create things. I am filled with awe and humility by the number of intelligent, generous and kick-ass people working on this piece. It makes me think how gratitude is a very close cousin of love.”

Kirk (scenic/lighting designer): “Every step, every moment, every detail of every person involved in this theater making process is, somehow, represented. It’s rare to explore how one handles one’s own grief in life, art and love in the wounded world around us. Death Play does all of that. And so much more.”

Ann (costume designer): “This piece is not only important for all of us looking for some directions to deal with death and grief, but it is unique in form; she has found a provocative, vulnerable, and personable guided tour of her own experience… There is a burden that death lays at your feet that you carry for the rest of your life. Lisa has been able to express that for me again. It is comforting to experience.”

Jeff (sound designer): “What really fascinated me about this piece was the timeline suggested of being a woman. Being a maiden before marriage, a mother after and then soon a crone. The idea of an older woman walking down the street and feeling invisible. The notion of disappearing entirely as an older woman…”

Elisabeth (assistant director): “Death Play shows not only the sad and ugly parts of death, but the beautiful and funny parts of it too. I can’t think of a better way to spend my time than with artists who are taking risks and being true to themselves. It’s also inspiring to see how Lisa has reacted to the situations life has dealt her: making art out of them for one, and being brave enough to be a vessel for this powerful story.”

This play could just as easily be Love Play, or Life Play, or Shit is Complicated and We’ll All Die Eventually So We Have to Figure Out How We Feel About That Play.

We’re excited to share it with you. Death Play runs at Atwater Village Theatre from March 19 – April 23. Check it out.

Camille Schenkkan
Producer, Death Play
Managing Director, Circle X Theatre Co.