HUNGRY GHOST - Skylight Theatre

Reviewed by Amanda Callas

The world premiere play  Hungry Ghost  by Lisa Sanaye Dring at Skylight Theatre in Los Feliz is a live wire act of fearless humor, grief, and existential dread. By turns, it is intoxicatingly bold, laugh-out-loud funny, unpredictable, outrageous and nervy. It's also quietly devastating and haunting. This is one you don't want to miss.

In  Hungry Ghost,  playwright Lisa Sanaye Dring exquisitely chronicles the desolation of losing someone who has failed you. In the grief, you are mourning not only the loss of that person, but also the loss of possibility, the chance, of ever experiencing the kind of nourishment you needed. Your hunger will now be forever. The past can feel unbearable now that it is truly final.

Lead character Dean is played with flawless realism by actor Jenny Soo. Dean is stunned by the death of her estranged, awful mother and the inheritance of her childhood home, a remote cabin in the forest where she remembers "the dense quiet from my childhood, like I'm being absorbed."   

Her wife Amanda is thrilled that they will move to this cabin and make it their own, finally able to start the family that she has always wanted. "There is no better revenge," she informs Dean, "than stealing a bitch's house." 

Amanda is convinced, with infectious, unsubstantiated optimism, that she can overcome Dean's painful memories in the cabin with their own new glorious ones. As she pornographically rubs herself up and down on a pole in the living room, she gleefully shouts, "See, now you'll remember me titty fucking this pole!"

Tasha Ames as Amanda is a revelation, her performance in every scene a standout. She is shock jock uncensored, a vibrant palette of juicy and raunchy, immature, lovably unhinged, goofy, disturbingly insensitive, and boundlessly adoring.

Lustily impregnating an ambivalent Dean with a turkey baster on the couch, Amanda throws herself into their upcoming baby with total abandon and joy, unpacking baby gear and telling everyone they know.

Dean retreats more into her grief and the hungry ghosts of her childhood. An immense loneliness settles indelibly into her, with a panicked feeling of suffocation that she cannot escape. The walls are closing in. "I'm turning into my mother," she confesses. 

Amanda's trust fund sunniness, her cheerful confidence that every problem has an answer that easily be solved or bought, begins to grate on Dean, as Dean evolves into another problem to be solved. Dean feels other-ed and mistrusted by the locals near their wilderness cabin, by the people she experienced in COVID who recoiled from her, as if she were the manifestation of a plague. Amanda tells Dean she can't really experience racism: "You're, like, Asian. You're white fucking adjacent!"    She wants to fix Dean's profound loss and devastation with shamanism or psychiatrists.

Enter the "post-structuralist hermit baby," a mischievous ghost who is a cross between the Hermit, a man who has lived in the woods alone for decades and steals from cabins to survive, and Dean's son from the future. This Beetlejuice type trickster plays haunting Steve Nicks songs on her mother's record player, gleefully trashes the house, and reminds Dean of the most raw and inescapable moments from her childhood.

Her future son also informs her that she will fail miserably as a mother, repeating the cycle that her mother created for her. "It's a metaphor," the ghost explains to his existence to her. Dean tries to get him to stop haunting her, screaming "Nobody wants you!"

"I know, that's why I live in the forest" he answers her chillingly. Actor Ben Messmer's performance as Hermit is vital, unpredictable, and thrillingly alive. He is unnerving, with an intense physicality, a strange lewdness and sense of danger lurking beneath his cereal-throwing pranks and guilt-inducing recriminations. What a talent.

In the relationship between Hermit and Dean, playwright Lisa Sanaye Dring dissects the savage loneliness and guilt of motherhood. The production, with an incredible creative team, makes the audience feel it viscerally - the unsupportable weight of motherhood's infinite daily failures, the daisy chain from one generation's pain to the next, the wild animal yearning to escape.

This ambitious production is a triumph for producers Gary Grossman and Tyree Marshall and the Skylight Theatre Company. The direction by Jessica Hanna is true perfection in every fresh, organic detail. Yuri Okahana-Benson, scenic designer, Brandon Baruch, lighting designer, and Joseph "Sloe" Slawinski, sound designer, work quiet wonders with the magical realism and surrealism of the stagecraft. Playwright Lisa Sanaye Dring's brilliant writing is unexpected, sensitive, and fearless.

Hungry Ghost  is the kind of play that stays with you for a long, long time. 

Hungry Ghost  runs through Oct 1 Friday/Saturday - 8:30PM, Sunday - 3:00PM, Monday - 7:30PM. Tickets: Prices range from $20 - $38 with limited PWYC tickets available.

Running time: 95 minutes; No Intermission. Limited Late Seating. Street parking with nearby pay parking lots. Skylight Theatre Company, 1816 ½ N. Vermont Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90027.

Posted By DH Magazine on August 31, 2023 04:03 pm | Permalink