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"Clay Feet/Wire Wings" Transforms Holst Theater

Lainey S. Cronk, March 12, 2009
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Photo by Elisabeth Reeves

In an unusual and unusually rich theatre production in March (with 15 additional showings scheduled for April), Pacific Union College's Dramatic Arts Society pushed into some new theatrical territory. Clay Feet/Wire Wings: The Space Between was another original DAS work inspired by two series of poems by a PUC English professor and Honors Program director, John McDowell.

McDowell's "God Poems" are written as narrative, based on the common (and biblical) things we say about "seeing God in others" or "God understanding every experience," and making that experience literal. Thus we have "God Surfs" and "God in the Kitchen." His "Angel Poems" series are more mysterious and ambiguous as they explore the mysterious and ambiguous roles of angels, who must, McDowell says, represent God to man and man to God, who are in-between.

Clay Feet/Wire Wings: The Space Between is a play that is, in director Mei Ann Teo's words, "collage, ensemble, and experimental theatre." With layer on layer of art, meaning, and experience, the play demands that the audience think hard, feel deeply, and even interact. Teo led a team of DAS members in personally exploring McDowell's two series of poems, contributing their own thoughts and experiences to create the play. They developed some themes to help pull the "poems" together, and also added elements of music, gymnastics, and sculpture along with usual stage choreography. Local artist William Callnan III transformed the lobby, two side rooms, and the main theater space of the Alice Holst Theater with his sculpture installations. Each of these areas became part of the experience for audience members.

Clay Feet has been popular with audiences, but those who don't have background or context say that reading the notes in the program is very helpful, and some remain mystified. Although, as the creators will admit, mystery is one of the important elements of this play. Community member and PUC alum Larissa Ranzolin remarked, " I found it very thought-provoking, though at first I was quite confused over it. There is definitely an air of mystery about the entire experience, and it took a great deal of thought to process it."

In the end, Ranzolin found the theme of "tormented angels" most intriguing, and was "very impressed by the acting of each person involved, and was thoroughly blown away by the installations and the obvious creativity it took to plan each of the four rooms presented."

Perhaps the best summary of Clay Feet is Teo's comment in her director's note, where she states the task they took on: "To use our God-given curiosity to ask dangerously, and push past all that we have already learned and forgotten in order to, perhaps, experience again."

 April showings will be April 4 (6:30 & 8:30 p.m.), April 5 (7:30 p.m.), April 10 (6 & 9:30 p.m.), April 11 (6:30 p.m.), April 12 (7:30 p.m.), April 17 (6 & 9:30 p.m.), April 18 (8:30 p.m.) and April 19 (7:30 p.m.). Reservations will be available online.