“Some people never die, and I am one.”
These are the words that begin Sona Tera Roman Hess, described in press materials as “the story of a family struggling to reconstruct itself in the aftermath of a strange infidelity, set against the backdrop of impending war.”
The character speaking these lines is Sona, an elderly (and apparently quite mad) farmer’s wife, who is wont to talk to piglets and other barnyard animals.
“They are here,” she informs us in her lengthy opening monolog. “They have returned to mother who doesn’t count.” “Come come,” she continues in her singsong voice. “I must get the guitar. I must tell the old man they are coming.” (The old man is Roman, a farmer … and Sona’s son-in-law.)
A young man and a pregnant woman soon arrive. “I never thought we’d come back here,” says the young man. “I never thought we’d have to,” replies his companion. The couple have come back home begging, in order to have their child and avoid starvation. “I’m his son, no matter what,” insists the young man, Hess, to the young woman, Tera.
Hess’s father is the aforementioned Roman, an imposing gray-haired giant of a man. Tera is Sona’s daughter and Roman’s wife. Though she insists to Roman that the child she is carrying is his, Roman knows that it is his son who has impregnated his young stepmother and is none too happy about it. “A son runs off with his father’s wife, under my roof,” seethes Roman, “under my own nose!”
Unfortunately, people all around are starving, and for this and this reason only have Tera and Hess returned to their homestead. Under other circumstances, shame would have kept them away.
Roman disowns Hess (“Forgive you? Never! I can’t.”) but allows him to stay and work. As for his wife who is hoping for a reconciliation, Roman cannot forget what she has done. Neither can Hess, who tells Terra, “We’rescum. I’m not scum by myself.”
And always, always Sona is there to repeat her favorite catchphrase, “I never died. I’m always here. I never died. I’m always here.”
Suddenly a band of wandering gypsy troubadours arrives bringing joy to Sona’s heart. Tera too is overjoyed. “It’s spring whenever you come back!” she tells them. Unfortunately, the gypsies bring alarming news to Hess. “The recruiters are out there, everywhere, looking for young men like you.” And soon the entire troupe of traveling players is performing the “Song Of The Generous Roosterfish,” with original music by Rob Kendt and choreography by Lindsay Martin.
As this synopsis of the play’s first 30 minutes or so may indicate, Sona Tera Roman Hess is a bizarre tale to say the least. Press materials describe its language as “grandiose and quietly poetic.” I overheard some in the audience describing it as pretentious.
I hesitate to go that far, as it may simply be that the playwright and director’s intentions went over my head.
In its favor, Sona Tera Roman Hess does have a sterling pedigree. Playwright Dennis Miles and director Kiff Scholl are both award winners. Davis Campbell’s set design of a farm house in miniature is a marvelous feat of style and imagination as are Susanne Klein’s fable-ready costumes. Matt Richter’s lighting is rich and atmospheric and so is Becky Grajeda’s sound design. There are some fine performances here as well, particularly that of Dawn Greenidge, who brings power, depth and reality to Tera.
Despite Miles’s stilted dialog, the cast give committed and mostly quite good performances. Besides Greenidge’s work, I was taken by Ian Crossland as Hess, and the gypsy troupe which is made up of Peter Barent Lewis, Adam Peña, Jen Kays, and Cloie Wyatt Taylor is colorful indeed, with a special tip of the hat to Lewis and Peña for a comedy cooking routine which is straight out of I Love Lucy. Kathleen Mary Carthy (Sona) and Greg Wall (Tera) give their all, but have a harder time with the play’s artificial language.
Ultimately, despite its talented cast and design team, Sona Tera Roman Hess proved too bizarre for my more traditional tastes.
Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood,
August 17, 2008
Photos: Ed Krieger