The cast of Sleepwalkers Theatre’s Into the Clear Blue Sky includes, from left, Pamela Smith as Margaret, Adrian Anchondo as Cody, Dina Percia as Mika, Christopher Nelson as The Scientist and Eric Kerr as Kale. Below: Anchondo and Smith connect in a disconnected world. Photos by Claire Rice
There are cannibals in Hackensack. A tsunami swallowed South America live on TV. And there are dogs the size of Chevys ransacking libraries.
Welcome to, as the producers put it, “your friendly neighborhood apocalypse.” Playwright JC Lee is in the midst of unfurling his world-premiere trilogy This World and After, and he’s getting some big-time help from Sleepwalkers Theatre, the company that produced Part One, The World Is Good, last summer and is now unveiling Part Two, Into the Clear Blue Sky.
If this is what post-apocalyptic life looks like, I don’t think I’ll mind so much when everything goes to hell. Not that life isn’t wretched. In addition to the horrors mentioned above, there are sea beasts to contend with, not to mention the fact that, due to acceleration of global warming, the very shape of the earth is changing and you can now, for reasons more poetic than scientific, find your way through the ocean to the moon.
But in Lee’s ravaged world, human beings are, mercifully, still human beings. His play, directed with flair by Ben Randle, is full of horror and wonder, but it’s all on a human scale. Lee has a graphic novelist’s flair imaginative drama and a playwright’s love of the poetic. He can be comic-geek funny one moment and Gabriel Garcia Marquez beautiful the next. As I said, human scale.
Our front-row seat to the mayhem is — where else? — right smack in New Jersey, described by one of the characters as “the worst of the 50 states.” It’s hard to image in any state being anything but horrific at this grim moment in history. We don’t know exactly what happened, or if there was even a defining event, but it seems the trajectory of world destruction and evolutionary mutation has picked up quite a bit of speed.
Lee’s focus is a family: brother and sister Kale (Eric Kerr) and Mika (Dina Percia), respectively, and their poetry-loving mother, Margaret (Pamela Smith) and cowardly scientific father (Christopher Nelson).
The father is cowardly because he has escaped into the clear blue sky. Something terrible has happened between Kale and Mika — so terrible that it turned Mika’s hands black and left permanent black handprints on Kale’s back. The family has ruptured as a result, and the father has fled in a silver pod of his own creation.
Mika embarks on a quest to somehow get the black off her hands, and Kale, joined by his childhood friend Cody (Adrian Anchondo) begins a parallel quest to find his sister, even though she now wants nothing to do with him.
Along the way, Mika — given the compassionate soul of warrior poet in Percia’s appealing performance — corresponds with her mother via letters delivered by angry seabirds. The letters are heartbreaking in their succinctly but perfectly expressed emotion.
Mika’s journey ends on the moon, where, among other lost souls, she may find the opportunity for a fresh start.
Kale’s journey is more complicated. A somewhat emotionally twisted young man, he doesn’t really know what he wants. His mother has essentially cast him out of the family home. His father has abandoned him, and his sister is running from him. The only person fully on his side is Cody (a funny, expressive and mostly bare-chested Anchondo).
Cody is fully in love with Kale, but Kale toys with his friend’s overflowing heart. It’s mainly due to Kerr’s compassionate portrayal of Kale that the character remains somewhat sympathetic, even though he treats Cody badly and has presumably done something terrible to his sister. How can Kale not love Cody, a man who says he has been compared to “a transgender Chita Rivera“?
In only about 70 minutes, Lee and director Randle fashion an epic quest full of family drama and end-of-the-world nightmares with help from Randle and scenic artist Maya Linke’s paper-strewn black-and-white set.
Horrible things happen and yet Lee never lets his characters journey too far from hope. As more than one character repeats, “Things will be good again.”
Into the Clear Blue Sky is good right now.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
JC Lee’s Into the Clear Blue Sky continues through April 30 at the Phoenix Theater, 414 Mason St., sixth floor, San Francisco. Tickets are $15 online and $17 at the door. Call 415-913-7272 or visit www.sleepwalkerstheatre.com for information.
I read this when it was submitted to the Bay Area Playwrights Festival a couple of years ago and argued (unsuccessfully) to get it into the festival. I don’t usually go for abstract plays like this, but it’s so beautifully written with an incredible depth of humanity, both heartbreaking and redemptive, it just never let me go. I’m glad it’s getting a great production.
Dear Chad Jones,
My name is Maya. I was the scenic artist for INTO THE CLEAR BLUE SKY, not the scenic designer. Ben Randle, the director, designed the show. Could you correct this?
Thank you so much and we all appreciate the great review!
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