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Larry Litt


Written by Charles Case
Directed and designed by Peter S. Case
La MaMa E.T.C.
74A East 4th St., NY NY
Reviewed March 13, 2009

Tavia Trepte as Billie Dawn, a medium who professes to touch the divine, yet can no longer hide the fact she is a hypochondriac and a liar. Alex Emanuel as Henry, a former vaudevillian and her partner in crime.

Death means many things. Each idea of the final event is conjecture and ultimately an interpretation. The expiration of the body is only one type of death. Because Death is physically unknowable unless you’ve had the near death experience, it is also the subject of brilliant and demonic human manipulation.

Religions, governments, medicine and many esoteric aspects of society use death as a symbol and ritual for control and gain. Death and sex are twins loosed without borders therefore society must oppress these natural functions with cruelty and corruption. Throughout human history most societies believed that bodily death is not the end of the individual spirit. Shades, ghosts, ectoplasms and sounds attempted to make their mark on people who needed to communicate with the spirits of the dead.

That said with all due respect and sanctimony to the dead, it’s just too easy to con grieving families and loved ones in their most vulnerable moments. Shekinah, Charles Case’s new play about the late 18th and early 19th century Spiritualist religious movement’s shadier characters brings to life the pain of both the believers and the charlatans. His theme is an old one used in movies and books to show audiences that they themselves are responsible for their gullibility. However this almost two hour long play attempts to go further by examining the these cynical characters’ essential hypocrisy and deviltry.

Tavia Trepte gives Billie Dove, the tired medium with an inner life of guilt and shame armored by an outer life of criminal largesse. She and her always drunk partner Lady, intensely played by Alex Emanuel, work a scam with rich marks that’s better than acting as a career decision. Billie has eyes that see spirits, especially those of true believer and man of science, the contradictory and hostile Dr. Richardson.
(below) Tavia Trepte as Billie Dawn. (above, left) Alex Emanuel as Henry. (above, right) Rick Zahn as Dr. Richardson.

It is Dr. Richardson, believably and powerfully acted by Rick Zahn, who delivers the play’s intent. He is the fuel that drives Billie to new heights of her scamming powers. When they are onstage there is electricity that made me want to see the spirit they jointly conjured, each in their own way. Much of the play’s power comes from these imaginative encounters and straightforward conflict between illusion and belief.

However there is another play at work here. The story of Wesley, a vicious young killer, thief and would be scam artist who is taught the medium business by Lady. Steven Francisco creates an over the top character with his inner life of no regret worn at knifepoint. He’s worthy of his own play as he overshadows the original intent of showing the hypocrisy of con men. I felt like was switching into interwoven stories that didn’t live in the same stage. However, that said the séances with Lady, Wesley and their victims are brilliant bits of theatrical staging and prop magic. I was mesmerized for the few minutes the effects were working. All good mystical fun to reinforce the victims beliefs.

I’d like to see Shekinah condensed and tightened to create even more tension between, Billie, Lady and Dr. Richardson. Without the distractions this could be a brilliant character study with a potent moral message. As it stands, it reaches for more spirits than it can handle.

Peace and Pleasure,
Larry Litt
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