The Arts
August 9-15, 2006

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'Skeleton Woman'

Little jewels from the heart: Light Touch theater, a new troupe, joins the 40-plus companies already in the North Bay.

Light and Dark

From an Inuit tale comes a new theater company

By David Templeton

An ordinary woman, faced with the troubles and uncertainties of modern life, randomly picks up a book of Inuit fairy tales. While reading the ancient story of Skeleton Woman, our heroine begins to hear the voice of the heroine calling to her, and as fast as you can say "experimental theater created by North Bay poets," she is whooshed away into Skeleton Woman's world, where she must examine her own life--and confront the details of her own eventual death.

So begins Skeleton Woman, subtitled A Dance with the Dark, the inaugural production of a brand-new theater troupe, Light Touch Theater, built from scratch by Santa Rosa actress-writer Christina O'Reilly primarily for the purpose of bringing Skeleton Woman's tale to life.

"I wanted to use different modalities than a normal play," she explains. "I spent eight years studying Indian classical dance, and from it I learned that when music, movement and poetry are brought together, resonances can be set up which can bring an audience into their own inner world."

Since none of the North Bay's 40-something theater companies fit the music-movement-poetry-and-resonance description, O'Reilly--who's been involved with various experimental theater companies for years--decided she'd have to start her own company dedicated to the vision of blending performance in a bold new way.

Her first task was to assemble a group of like-minded artists, folks who are, as O'Reilly describes it, "dedicated to throwing themselves wholeheartedly into a very different kind of writing and logic." Now, after several months of work, the new show--and the new Light Touch Theater--is ready for its first two-week run at Spreckels Performing Arts Center in Rohnert Park.

According to O'Reilly, the cast has created something truly bold and beautiful. "This kind of work takes some very brave actors," she says, "actors who are willing to grapple in the dark until an inner logic appears."

O'Reilly says she's been fascinated with fairy tales for over 30 years, and cites Robert Bly, the renowned American poet and translator, as a mentor. "I've read fairy tales, and I've read about fairy tales," she says. "In [Bly's] telling of tales, I experienced how these old, old stories contain maps for the progression of our inner needs, and I realized that fairy tales contain archaic rhythms and words that can be key-ins to different parts of ourselves."

Skeleton Woman, the Inuit tale that inspired her new play, was unknown to her until she discovered it in Clarissa Pinkola Estés' book Women Who Run with the Wolves. As she read, O'Reilly immediately began asking herself questions. "What happens when someone is thrown away? How are people thrown away? I decided to write a play which would interweave an ordinary woman's life into this beautiful fairy tale."

Once Skeleton Woman is over, Light Touch--so named, she assures, because its shows will "plumb the depths, but always with a 'light touch'"--will continue to delve into the world of fairy tales and otherworldly excursions. O'Reilly is already at work on two new shows: Beauty and the Beast: A Taste for Roses and Drowning in the Same Sea: Thirteen Conversations in the Afterlife Between Saint Francis and Emily Dickinson.

"The theater is also going to be exploring different ways of creating interfaces between stage and audience," she says, citing interactive blogs, audience participation and one-minute plays that will broadcast on the company's website (

"Most important of all," she adds, "this theater is dedicated to a collaborative spirit in putting up a play."

'Skeleton Woman' runs Aug. 18-20 and 24-27 at the Spreckels Performing Arts Center, 5409 Snyder Lane in Rohnert Park. Thursday-Saturday at 8pm; Sunday, Aug. 20 at 7pm; Sunday, Aug. 27 at 4pm. $10-$18; pay what you can, Thursday and Sunday. 707.588.3400.

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