This past Saturday was Queen City Saturday in Poughkeepsie, and POKLIT, the series of readings I organize, contributed to the day of the arts with HALLOW STORIES, a collaboration between myself and Bettina Gold Wilkerson, better known as Poet Gold. HALLOW STORIES was a spliced-together performance of spoken word and lyric poetry by Gold, Glenn Werner, and Gold’s Evolving Wordsmiths, which took place between scenes of my newest short play, “Baba Yaga and the Land of Forgetting”…
…in an empty, crumbling historic firehouse.
Gold and the poets led the audience through the firehouse between scenes of the play, reading work that responded to our theme, “we write what we fear.” It was like a haunted house of literary goodness.
“The Land of Forgetting” isn’t the first time I’ve written Baba Yaga onto the stage–I also did a staged reading back in May of “Baba Yaga and the 5 Stages of Hypothetical Grief” in the Poughkeepsie Sculpture Park. She’s like an amalgamation of my two grandmothers (now deceased), myself, and the version of myself that I most fear: selfish, vain, and a little clueless. She’s also vulnerable and, dare I say it? Endearing? Which is an odd way to describe a Russian devil-witch who ate her enemies and set their skulls on fence posts, but hey, that’s creative license for you.
The cast was as follows:
BABA YAGA: Linda Roper
DEATH: Cate Fricke
MORTIMER, Who is Really KOSCHEI THE DEATHLESS: Mark Stochmal
The WOMAN Who is Not Vasilisa: Michele McNally
Musicians were Gina Samardge and Andy Rinehart, Poets were Poet Gold, Glenn Werner, Novis Poet, Regi Rivers, and DC Castellano.
Here are some pics and quotes from the show. Enjoy!
Gina Samardge and Andy Rinehart performed before and during the play
BABA YAGA. You used to be so much more fun. You haven’t told a joke in centuries, Mortimer, dear. Not since we left the Old Country. And I could sorely use a joke. Go ahead, my love, tell the one about Prince Ivan, and how you turned his best man Bulat into stone from the waist down, and then all the way up! Oh, how Ivan howled! That man was the biggest closet case I’ve ever seen.
(MORTIMER, true to form, doesn’t respond.)
DEATH. How could you let me go on without you, when all there is to stay for is the telling of an old tale for the trillionth time, and no one to hear it? And I’m such an awfully good listener, Baba. Come, tell me everything.
(A long pause.)
BABA YAGA. Well, shit.
Poet Gold leads the audience through the firehouse and upstairs to the next scene
WOMAN. Didn’t you say you were, like, a consultant or something? Like a life coach.
BABA YAGA. I’m sure that’s what you heard, but it probably wasn’t what I said. I do occasionally help women reach their fullest potential.
WOMAN. What’s your method? Meditation?
BABA YAGA. Scaring the shit out of them.
WOMAN. Oh my God. Old people are so cute.
(MORTIMER sees something lying on the floor a few feet away. He goes to investigate. It’s a rag doll. He examines it—maybe he takes out a chipped magnifying glass, or a pair of glasses missing a lens, and gives it the once-over. He carefully puts the doll in his pocket.)
BABA YAGA. (Grabbing Mortimer’s wooden spoon, which is sticking out of his pocket, and smacking him with it.) That’s all you’ve got? She had no protections on her! No flax in her shoes—she wasn’t even wearing a belt! Where’s your nerve?
(Shaken, she turns to DEATH.)
BABA YAGA. How can you stand it? You’re the one, out of all of us, that they need to be mindful of. Don’t they know to stay away from the woods? To never take off their belts unless bathing? To put a bit of food out for the domovoi? Aren’t they afraid of anything out there?
DEATH. Of course! So many things. They’ve just forgotten the names of what they fear.
DEATH. You don’t have a heck of a lot of time left, you know. The forgetting sets in fast. But since we’re, well, colleagues, I have one last thing to give you.
BABA YAGA. Which is what?
DEATH. A head’s-up. This is it. Your last moment of clarity. Enjoy it. Take it out and show it off. (To MORTIMER.) I’m ready for bed now. Will you tuck me in?
BABA YAGA: You all think, in the end, that your lives are your own, unconnected to anything that came before. Even when there are those who have been waiting since the beginning of time in the deep and figurative woods, waiting with hushed breath and aching bones, to witness your first step through the moonlit trees.
Photo by Barbara Todd
BABA YAGA. It’s the house! It’s found us, even in this terrible place! (pause.) Isn’t it funny, when you see your home again, it’s always much smaller than you remember.
(As BABA YAGA exits through the door to the Land of Forgetting, MORTIMER reaches into the house and takes out what the audience can now see is an egg. He smiles, smells it, holds it close. Then, one of two options:
1. If the actor can do sleight-of-hand, he takes out his red handkerchief and “disappears” the egg into it—that old trick—or,
2. Tenderly, as if embracing it, he breaks the egg between his long, silent fingers.)