By Sue Morgan
Amateur magician Kristin’s real magic is her ability to conjure characters out of thin air, writing them into life. Jenny’s magic is her ability to walk through the world authentically and unapologetically, living her truth in every interaction. Taylor Diffenderfer, who plays both women in this one-woman production of Open, by Crystal Skillman, magically embodies both Kristen and Jenny, holding the audience rapt using only words and gestures throughout her masterful performance.
As the audience enters the theatre of Main Stage West, we see Kristen (Diffenderfer) dressed as the Magician in top hat, bowtie, vest and jacket sitting on the edge of the empty stage, eyes closed. She remains this way until everyone is seated, the housekeeping messages video has played, screen retracted, and the lights focus on her. Opening her eyes, a look of amazement crosses her face as she looks out at the audience and crows, “I’m here. I’m here. I am here. Your magician.”
Open is a magic act without magic.
Kristen explains, “We are here for Jenny. Jenny evoked me,” and “. . . every person who has ever loved, has a magician… and Jenny has me. So we imagine.” Pantomiming catching imaginary juggling balls falling one by one from above and beginning to juggle the balls, Kristen, as the magician, expounds: “Secrets are the balls we keep in the air. Ours will come crashing down this evening.” She tells us this will happen in three short acts: First Love, Commitment, and Sacrifice, and that there will also be an extra act: A Promise.
With masterful direction by Lauren Heney, Diffenderfer is astonishing as she brings to life the romance between the two women, who meet for the first time in the Occult section of a New York City bookstore when Kristen accidentally pushes a book about magic off a freestanding shelf onto the floor of the next aisle. As she peers through the opening she sees Jenny, who asks what the book is for and returns it to Kristen with her name and phone number written on a piece of paper, sticking up out of the pages.
We follow the women through their five-year partnership as they navigate the challenges of cultivating a relationship despite the fact that Kristen, fearing reprisal, is not entirely comfortable being forthright about their courtship, while Jenny insists on transparency. Eliciting the promise alluded to early in the play, Jenny beseeches Kristen: “Promise me we will always be open with who we are.” Kristen agrees, but finds it a difficult promise to keep.
Sound design by Ken Sonkin is outstanding, perfectly choreographed to enhance audience members’ experience of pantomime and sense of place. Melissa Weaver nails the lighting design, especially during the levitation sequence when Diffenderfer truly seemed to soar.
Open shines a light on the prejudices in our culture, and even within families who genuinely love, but struggle to accept in their entirety, their “unconventional” family members. It reminds us that empathy is essential, and that ignorance and the perception of “otherness” can be lethal. This is not an easy play to experience, but, like many illuminating artforms, it offers us an opportunity to look within and ignites our determination to recommit to taking actions that allow all humans to be safe to simply live their lives.
Postscript: As I finished this review, the Press Democrat announced the closing of Main Stage West, due to the “rising costs and lost income caused by the coronavirus pandemic and other calamities.” I am deeply saddened by this news and want to thank the founding members, PACT (Performing Artists Coalition for Theater) and everyone who worked so diligently for over twelve years to provide such impactful and professional productions for West County theatre-goers.
You will be profoundly missed.
“Open” will be the final play at MSW, with a concert by Misner and Smith on February 15th and a “Close Up Magic Extravaganza ” by Ken Sonkin on February 22nd. Please attend and express your gratitude to this wonderful group of artists.
Contributing Writer Sue Morgan is a literature-and-theater enthusiast in Sonoma County’s Russian River region. Contact: email@example.com
|Written by||Crystal Stillman|
|Directed by||Lauren Heney|
|Producing Company||Main Stage West|
|Production Dates||Through Feb 26th|
|Production Address||Main Stage West
104 N Main St
Sebastopol, CA 95472
|Tickets||$20 – $32|
|Reviewer Score||Max in each category is 5/5|
|Aisle Seat Review PICK!||YES!|