- OTHER MEDIA
- KQED Arts March 18, 2010 (Ben Marks)
- As Giant Bones opens, a seemingly stern king known as the Jiril
(Jay Smith) begins to read a bedtime story to his unruly children. In fact,
the Jiril is reading the first of four Peter S. Beagle stories that make
up Giant Bones. Like the play, now through June 19, 2010 at Exit Theatre
in San Francisco, the Jiril's story is called "Giant Bones,"
which is performed by a company of actors moving about in a kind of interpretive-dance
pantomime, as recorded voices supply their dialogue.
- In the tale, a boy is rescued from certain death at the hands of a
fell beast by a benevolent giant, who then kidnaps the lad lest he reveal
the secret of the community of giants that he has stumbled upon. As the
boy learns patience, he also learns the customs of the giants, which includes
consuming the corpses of their departed fellows. Finally, only one giant
is left, the boy's benefactor, who makes the young man promise to eat her
bones when she finally passes away. He does this, and upon returning to
his village after an 18-year absence, his patience is rewarded with a loving
marriage and exceptionally tall children.
- This is kind of cool, we think, but when does the acting begin?
- A second tale quickly follows, this one based on a Beagle story called
"The Magician of Karakosk." Now the Renaissance Faire style of
the players moves front and center. The queen (Jessica Rudholm), for example,
is a squinty eyed conniver; the magician (Rik Lopes), whom the queen has
blackmailed to learn his dark arts, is endlessly noble, a man who can communicate
with the very elements yet considers himself no more than a servant of
his fellow peasants. The supporting actors mug incessantly and are shamelessly
obsequious before their fearsome queen, more clowns than actors. To play
it straight would have been ponderous.
- We are just beginning to ruminate on the gentle lessons that playwright-director
Stuart Bousel has spread before us when the company begins to take its
bows (I loved it when the magician presents his waiting wife with a gift
of the queen's gold crown: "I have no use for this," she says.
"I know," he replies. "That is your gift to me.").
They turn first to us and we clap, a bit confused as we hear canned applause
in the background. Then they turn their backs to us and bow to an unseen
audience upstage. A curtain closes, and we are now backstage with them
as they bicker about what went right and wrong in the preceding two stories
we have just watched them act out. They mock their own intrusion into the
play, and ironically bemoan plays with second acts that take too long to
- This new narrative, which is interrupted one more time in act one by
a third Beagle story before dominating act two, is based on Beagle's "The
Tragical Historie of the Jiril's Players." Now we understand where
all the melodrama and big gestures were coming from -- that's what the
Jiril's Players do, that's their shtick.
- I suppose act two could be its own play, the plot of which I won't
give away in the hope you'll see it for yourself, but it does benefit from
the context provided in act one, although 75 minutes is probably a good
deal more context than most audiences need.
- Still, the time gave me a chance to get to know these marvelous actors,
to look forward to them in each new role. For example, Katrina Bushnell
is terrific as the player named Kydra as well as the Jiril's dimwitted
son, Davao. And I enjoyed Mikka Bonel's work as Tai-Sharm alongside Lopes,
the King she must marry, and Paul Rodrigues, the Thief who has come to
steal her, and her heart, away.
- Mostly, though, I grew to appreciate the interaction between the company's
leader, Dardis (Lopes), and his leading lady, Lisonje (Rudholm). Their
relationship, which seemed so black and white when we first met the company,
evolved slowly, subtly. All that was required to see it unfold was a bit