MJ KAUFMAN’S NEW PLAY, A MEANINGFUL LBGT STORY ABOUT THE CONSTANT STATE OF CHANGE
The Ponderosa pine is a large coniferous tree with a lifespan of up to 600 years and grows faster in one hour than a year of a one’s life; it is one of the inspirations in they very personal SAGITTARIUS PONDEROSA. The New Conservatory Theatre is currently staging the world premiere of this powerful new play through Feb 28th. Written by the talented new writer, MJ Kaufman, winner of the 2014 Global Age Project at Aurora Theatre Company. The play is featured on The 2015 Kilroy List of the most recommended new plays by female and trans* writers. SAGITTARIUS PONDEROSA is a personal exploration for Kaufman, who was encouraged by playwright, Sarah Ruhl, to "explore new plot forms for writing about gender,” says Kaufman “I had been feeling frustrated that most queer narratives are coming-out stories and most transgender narratives are transition stories. Why are the most prominent narratives organized around arriving at a more stable identity? I wanted to create art that would acknowledge constant change as an intrinsic part of being a person. I am overjoyed to see the world premiere of Sagittarius Ponderosa at NCTC,” says Kaufman. “San Francisco feels like the perfect place to premiere this exploration of love, family, forests and identity."
Beautifully directed by NCTC’s Artistic Associate, Ben Randle, he has assembled a first rate cast for Kaufman's whimsical self-discovery. SK Kerastas skillfully plays Archer (still Angela to his family). Archer has returned home to the forests of eastern Oregon to care for his dying father. At night under the oldest Ponderosa Pine, he meets a stranger (Owen) who knows the history of the forests and the sadness of losing endangered things. As Archer says goodbye to his father he discovers the power of names and the histories they make and hide behind. It is always difficult to return home and face our past and discuss “the new” with family and old friends. Archer's family, Mom, a dying Father and profound Grandma, deal with their daughter's move to being their loving son.
Randle's staging sets us inside the family's dining room and the parents' bedroom, the space finely designed by Christian V. Mejia to blend the Oregon forest throughout the black box Walker Theatre. Mejia works the parents' bed into a Ponderosa, and the huge tree outside the home is beautiful with its angel like branches and snow covered base. When Owen, played sensitively by local favorite, Matthew Hannon, finds Archer on an evenings walk. There is no question asked about sexual identities just a simple question from Owen “lets fuck”. Their relationship is simple and sweet and under the shadow of the great Ponderosa they meet; the short one act brings a softly erotic warmth to the historic changing forest.
Andy Collins plays Archer’s dad, Robert, a man who is sick but who actually looks in good health, but his death is near and Archer needs that moment with him. He is a quiet, kind man who understands his daughter and sets his own example when he changes his name. Collins brings such charm and love to this character. His sleepless nights with his wife sensitively played by, Janis DeLucia, are troubled as he is unsettled about the transition he is about to take. He is clearly dealing with his approaching death. Grandma is well played by the enchanting, Michaela Greeley, who is more understanding in a blind deaf way, and only waits for her granddaughter's wedding. Collins doubles for a senior friend, Mr Peterson, the suitor of Grandma, they both agree to match Archer with his son. Peterson is a puppet character perfectly designed by Dave Haaz-Garoque, Randle cleverly gives him one of the best entrances to this story, as he seems to drop from one of the huge trees. Grandma spends some classic moments making a love potion she plans to plant in her granddaughter's drink, but in an innocent moment the potion works more for Grannies transitions.
The sound and music design by James Ardis is important in this one act as it sets the mystical feeling to the constant changes of the players. The costumes are simple brown tones and winter that tell each character's story designed by Miriam R. Lewis. Archer's look is masculine attire of woodsy shirt, tight jeans, and boots and with cropped hair, and a purple-checkered handkerchief hanging from his back pocket. The lighting by Anthony Powers has wonderful touches of mysticism and symbolism, yet a modern glow when needed too. Kaufman creates transitions for all her characters, that some resist and some embrace with as they let themselves go. This play is excellent and it has moments of describing the essence of human change and courage trans* young folks face. The mix of identities in constant change from a forest tree to death and love potions.
The New Conservatory Theatre Center continues staging important world premieres that discuss topics other stages miss. SAGITTARIUS PONDEROSA is a meaningful LBGT story and with its focus of the Trans* community I highly recommend you spend your Feburary theatre ticket on this new work. This would also make the best Valentine gift for one you are close to.
NEW CONSERVATORY THEATRE CENTER PRESENTS
THE WORLD PREMIERE OF AWARD-WINNING
NEW PLAY BY MJ KAUFMAN, DIRECTED BY BEN RANDLE
Through February 28, 2016,
New Conservatory Theatre Center,
25 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco.
90 minutes no intermission
Tickets are available online at http://www.nctcsf.org
or calling the box office at 415-861-8972.
Photos by Lois Tema.