No artistic medium asks us, the audience, to bring our imagination to the table as much as a staged theatre reading. So when a work such as Kim and Delia is presented by Vineyard playwright and filmmaker Brian Ditchfield — on Saturday night, May 31, under the aegis of the popular Island Interludes program of New Works by Island Writers — and when the play itself is a homage to imagination and its infinite possibilities, well, the audience shares in the creation.
Eventually, should Kim and Delia leap-frog from stage to movie screen, then the filmmakers, ideally animators, can do all the work for us. We’d see dragon hides swirling past in sparkling hues of aquamarine, magenta and emerald. Alternating shadows and dappled lights can lead us down perilous paths of a wholly unfamiliar underworld and, although some of the mythological figures contained therein are patently good, others manifestly evil, so famous voice-overs will clue us in: Cameron Diaz for a daffy slave to tea-time, Billy Crystal a goofy gatekeeper, and Christopher Walken as the tyrant of this peculiar place that is and isn’t Hades. But for now it’s up to us to imagine these elements.
The action starts with a small band of mourners who speak a few words in a foreign language, including “obrigado,” which enough Vineyarders will recognize to place the setting in perhaps the Azores or Brazil. A 10-year-old girl named Kim (Amadine Muniz) and her grandmother (Jill Macy) are burying Kim’s mother. All at once a young woman named Delia (Brooke Hardman) materializes as Kim’s playmate. A sinister presence named Wolfgang (Christopher Roberts) hovers in the background, clearly interested in the little girl’s blood, which we know, without any additional information, can’t be good. Stones are distributed, invisible sticks serve as divining rods, and suddenly all hell breaks loose as Delia charges off into some kind of hinter world to seek the spirit of Kim’s mother, and Kim herself is motivated by Wolfgang’s hypnotic entreaties, to scoot along after her.
The Land of Lost Imaginary Friends is a combination of Wonderland, Oz, and all the random Other Sides dreamed up by world legends, but basically the denizens are less dead souls and more cast-off figments of “real world,” human imagination. The suspense heats up as newcomers quickly lose their memories, which will drastically impede their quests. A host of characters are given voice by three actors, Jill Macy, Sheryl Dagostino and Jeremy Gates, all of whom are game enough to also provide the frequent roaring vocals of the local dragon population. Ms. Macy and Ms. Dagostino are particularly hilarious in their evil witch impersonations, cackling rings around the Weird Sisters of Macbeth. In the role of the Gatekeeper, Mr. Gates displays a facial plasticity that put this reviewer in mind of the big name comics of the Saturday Night Live lineup.
Oak Bluffs schoolgirl Amadine Muniz, whom Mr. Ditchfield discovered in the Island’s Fourth Grade Theatre Project, her waist-length mane of dark hair trailing behind her into LOLIF, is a theatrical natural who you might think had been born in a stage trunk did this not represent her first experience on the boards. Ms. Hardman is lovely as the grownup gamine of an imaginary friend. Director Matthew Gabor, without props or music or painted backdrops, nonetheless wreaks the magic that brings a world, albeit a spooky, unreal one, to the stage.
After the performance, the theatre hosted a question and answer session downstairs. Mr. Ditchfield sat flanked by his creative team: Ms. Hardman, we learned, is his wife, and Mr. Gates and Mr. Gabor friends and collaborators from past projects. The playwright was asked how Kim and Delia had first suggested itself, and he replied:
“Brooke, Matthew, and Jeremy and I were living in Chicago and we started brainstorming about the alleyways behind our building, all creepy and scary and heading off all over the place — maybe to other worlds.”
When asked if he’d originally thought of the play as a film, he replied, “Yes, totally, we thought of it in that vein. I wrote 10 pages as an idea for a screenplay.”
Another questioner asked how the idea had morphed into a play rather than a movie. With a grin, Mr. Ditchfield replied, “Because I was working here at the Playhouse!”
Someone wanted to know if Mr. Ditchfield as a child had been possessed of an imaginary friend, to which he answered, “I used to play an imaginary character, so I guess you could say I was the imaginary friend.”
In the audience, Dr. Gerry Yukevitch of Vineyard Haven opined that the play reminded him of Spencer’s Faery Queen. This correspondent volunteered her own reference: Philip Pullman’s excellent fantasy series, also featuring a 10-year-old girl, of which the first in the trilogy, The Golden Compass, was recently made into a movie.
The keen and thoughtful interest of the audience was evidence of the success marking the staged reading: Players, crew, audience, and the playhouse itself are aware of, and reveling in, the development of new material for the living, constantly mutating stage. A week before, on May 24, two other playwrights were given a chance to air their works in progress: Jay H. Kaufman for Crosswords and Susanna J. Sturgis for A Midsummer Night’s Alternative. Mr. Kaufman, an ophthalmologist and budding writer living in Newton and Edgartown, crafted his one-act play around a couple arguing hot button topics, including the Iraq War, as the husband labors over the Sunday Times Crossword Puzzle. Vineyard writer, Ms. Sturgis, after crewing on a local production of Midsummer Night’s Dream, concocted her own version, that of Titania ruling over an enchanted place where Hermia and Helena are free to pursue their devotion to each other.
Playhouse producer and artistic director M.J. Munafo has long provided fertile ground for staged readings and one-act play festivals, all in the service of developing new talent. The result has been a growing imperative for audiences to catch these absorbing pre-season events.