"Skeleton Stories:" A Touching Journey To The Underworld
Williams describes the two-act “Skeleton Stories” as a cross-cultural journey into the underworld: Imagine if “Dante went to his Inferno and found the old Aztec gods there,” she says.
Originally, the 28-year-old playwright envisioned it as more of a piece that happened in the headspace with a central “id” character. Instead, the script evolved to be more about the heart as we travel along with Maya (Nina Harada), a girl on the cusp of womanhood desperate for the understanding and advice of her dead mother Corazon (Lorianne Hill).
Maya’s journey is a mix of Dante’s nine circles of suffering, Greek mythology and, perhaps most influential, Aztec legend about the underworld where those who die make a dangerous journey accompanied by a canine companion until they reach their final resting place. (In “Skeleton Stories,” Maya is led by a protective, but also predatory dog, played with the sexuality and sleaze of a sly trickster by Rick Steadman.)
“If you’re super nerdy you can check it out,” Williams jokes about how her love of mythological and cultural research helped shape the script. “But also, I think, there’s nobody on a heart level that doesn’t understand loosing somebody and wanting to see them again. The director talked to me about how he feels it’s the stages of grief. Which wasn’t my intention but it also works.”
With Maya’s journey as the narrative thread, “Skeleton Stories” lives up to its title. It weaves together a series of self-contained vignettes — some tearfully touching, others macabrely hilarious — about death, loss and acceptance.
The play had its world debut Oct. 1 at the Theatre of NOTE in Hollywood. It runs weekends through Nov. 6 — and the timing is no coincidence.
Part of Williams’ own Mexican heritage helped shape the story.
“I found it really amazing and really touching. I said to Nick, ‘This is what ‘Skeleton Stories’ should be.’ It should be based around this holiday and this feeling. It just added this feeling of warmth and of there being something deeper than just having some weird skeletons in the closet.”
In fact, the centerpiece of the set is a large Dia de los Muertos altar adorned with photographs, sugar skulls and numerous curios in the tradition of the Mexican holiday celebrated Nov. 1-2 in honor of loved ones that have died. “Get closer,” director Bill Voorhees said after last Saturday’s performance. “It’s one of those sets that doesn’t loose anything the closer you get. It gets better.”
At first the intimate black box with less than 90 seats can be deceiving. However, “Skeleton Stories” is a tremendous production that includes puppetry and masks, dance, multimedia projections, intricate soundscapes and strong, solid performances by its cast, many of whom appear in multiple roles — and can still manage to surprise the playwright.
“I laugh at the actors because they’ll do something that’s different or they’ll do something that I think is funny,” says Williams, who let out several amused chuckles during last Saturday’s performance. “They’ll suddenly change the way they approach a line. I’ll think what they’re doing is clever, so I’ll laugh at that.”
Williams notes that Voorhees was generous in letting her work with him on the production, which allowed her to tailor the script for the actors and be “respectfully opinionated” about the direction of the play.
“It really has been collaborative,” says Williams, who studied theater at Central Washington University, a small state college known for its puppetry work and children’s theater that over the past decade has aggressively built up its drama department.
Still, she adds, “They did more than I thought they were going to do. It has a huge scope and is very ambitious.”
All that ambition, though, came to a head the night before the opening of a play seven years in the making for Williams — when the dress rehearsal was plagued by set malfunctions and prop piece disasters.
“So Friday I got this huge migraine headache during the show because I was just willing it to stay together,” she says, now laughing. “It’s like when you’re on an airplane and you’re willing it to stay in the air. So I couldn’t really enjoy it. But Friday nothing broke, nobody spontaneously combusted, so on Saturday I finally got to relax.”
What: “Skeleton Stories” written by Delondra Williams and directed by Bill Voorhees.
Where: Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Los Angeles.
When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays through Nov. 6.
Info: (323) 856-8611 / Theatreofnote.com.
Reach reporter Kim Nowacki here.