By Adam Collier
A bug was fluttering around under the lights – serendipitous, as the action opens with a character remarking on locusts eating her alive. Her name is Scilla (short for Priscilla), and she’s set on the task of writing a play that involves younger versions of herself and her brother Leo.
We find-out very early on that Leo is dead now. He is a presence however as Scilla attempts to progress in her work.
Leo (played by Nathan Bitton) seems a bit possessed or crazy. Early on he howls at the moon like a coyote. In one of the scenes of younger life Scilla is writing, Leo tells his sister to use her imagination to transform the taste of oil-soaked snow into chocolate. And as Leo describes experiences in New Mexico, Leo tells us he felt like he was buried in sand.
Scilla (Alex Vincent) seems both in love and totally traumatized by her brother, because he left her as a child. Her oscillations, between joy and awe for Leo, and heartbreak over his inexplicable behavior conspire into the structure of How Coyote Was Swallowed By The Sandia Mountains.
As Scilla writes, she remembers. And as she remembers, she confronts. And so the play moves from scenes from Scilla is working on (that her brother acts out with her, playing a little girl), to memories tangential to those scenes, to present-day interactions with her ghost brother that precipitate conflict.
How Coyote Was Swallowed By The Sandia Mountains struck me as highly ambitious. Structurally I have never seen anything like this play. Though it resembles a memory play – a mixture of past and present – How Coyote Was Swallowed By The Sandia Mountains, written by Anna Roth Trowbridge, goes one-step further. Ms. Trowbridge’s Scilla breaks the barrier between recollecting and an active creative process. Here, the two are almost one in the same.
Mr Bitton and Ms Vincent navigate this psychological and chronological landscape effortlessly. The script offers unique challenges to each of them. For Ms Vincent, her character Scilla regresses to a little girl. For Mr Bitton, his character circles back over moments. So the unconventional structure seems to bias, at times, on his mastery of the non-linear flow of events.
Sam Sholdice has composed a perfectly appropriate soundscape for the action. It is spectral, almost ghostly. Mr Sholdice’s work, as much as the actors or director (Nathaniel Bryan), brought me closer to the action – really a psychological confrontation.
The performance I saw got a long – twenty-second – ovation.
I heard a few people saying the action was very jumpy and hard to follow, so maybe it’s not for everyone. But I would recommend it.
– How Coyote Was Swallowed By The Sandia Mountains is playing at the Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse (798 St. George Street)
– Remaining showtimes include Friday July 9th at 9:15PM and Saturday July 10th at Noon