What has a mermaid, World War I veterans, an automatically flushing toilet and a goat? The answer is "O Lovely Glowworm," Walla Walla High School's latest theatrical production opening tonight.
The play takes place in the mind of a "blind, deaf, formerly dead stuffed goat" who, in the process of searching for his identity, imagines the "great scenes of beauty" that compose the show, according to a news release. What ensues is a simultaneously comedic and dark mix of corpses, taxidermists, unicorns, deserters, love, adultery and death.
"It's not really an easy one to tell in an elevator," Director Brian Senter said.
Written by Glen Berger, Senter describes the play as "terribly imaginative, like nothing I've ever seen." Senter became acquainted with Berger, a contemporary playwright (currently working on "Spiderman: The Musical") in Los Angeles, where the two were involved in the same theater company. There, Senter became "pretty well hooked on the guy's stuff."
Senter said that while some adults find the play absurd beyond repair, his students enjoyed it immediately.
"The thing I noticed about it in the reading that was the most interesting is that the students automatically loved it when we read it. They laughed their heads off; they thought it was wonderful," he said.
One highlight of the show is a nativity scene that the goat imagines.
"The poor goat is a little confused about who's in the nativity scene, because he's got a tramcar conductor and dogs and a cow and all kinds of weird people," Senter said.
The set equals the script in whimsy. A mermaid swing with a fish mobile hangs in one corner and antique armchairs and a hand-painted garden with gnomes are on the main stage. At one point in the play, cardboard animals, or "cardboardigami," descend from the ceiling. Most of the set is made from garbage that the crew found from Dumpster diving.
The music and sound cues are also a unique mix. Aside from cartoon sound effects, audience members will be serenaded with ragtime, big band, classical music and a smooth jazz rendition of "Ain't No Sunshine."
One of the main characters is MacMann, an enthusiastic fellow who dreams of becoming an inventor but finds out the real world is harsher than his dreams. Senior David Marr who plays MacMann, said that, to him, the character symbolizes a child growing up.
Part of Marr's preparation for the role included connecting to the character on a sympathetic level. Marr noted that in spite of the play's fantastical elements, underneath there is a truly human story.
"Even though this show does have strange things, like people dying and then being brought back to life, at the core of it it is really real, and these people are real people with real feelings and real connections," Marr said.
It is the emotional reality that complicates what could have otherwise been interpreted as a farce-fest. From the balance between the absurd and the real to the complex language, "O Lovely Glowworm" is what Senter described as "an incredibly hard show."
"It would be easy if you wanted to camp it up, but this is not camp. You have to play this dead serious. The people need to be on the verge of tears falling out of their eyes on some of these speeches," Senter said.
If all goes according to plan, "O Lovely Glowworm" should prove to be both an escape into a more dreamlike landscape and an invitation for audience members to revisit their own dreams.
Senter said of his aspirations for audience experience, "I hope it makes them think. I hope it makes them remember their own lives and their own dreams. It's complicated, you know? And the chance of failure is so great. The risks are so high that it's kind of scary."