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Theater professors, students weave thought-provoking creation stories into show

Ashiah Scharaga

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Thunder booms and 15 actors clad in white pants and T-shirts with tie dye spirals are illuminated by a faint light. They march in, haphazardly stomping and clapping in the dark theater, becoming thunder.

Suddenly there is a bang, and an image of the cosmos is projected onto the curtain at center stage. The actors’ bodies cast shadows on the cosmos with the help of a projector, all gracefully twisting arms and fluid rotations and pointed toes.

“Creation Stories” opened Tuesday night in Larry Wismer Theatre. Presented by Chico State’s School of the Arts, the show is directed and choreographed by Sue Hargrave Pate and adapted by Katie Whitlock.

“Creation Stories” was inspired by theater movement class projects. Stories about the creation of life as we know it, featuring crocodiles, rainbow serpents, giants and gods are presented from a variety of cultures in deft succession.

In the midst of the stories, Science, played by Brittney Nusbaum, and Spirit, played by Zachary Hansen, duke it out, arguing for their respective sides.

They also participate in the stories, Science sometimes interrupting when they seem just too far-fetched.

At one moment, Science and Spirit play a game of human chess using other actors as pieces. They and the pieces quote different authors, scholars, scientists and philosophers as they move, the game drawing closer and closer to “check mate” with each quote.

The interaction between Nusbaum and Hansen is authentic and not forced. It is as if they are siblings, quarreling about who can tell the better story.

Their relationship beautifully represents the war everyone has to face between their head and their heart when it comes to such puzzling questions about creation.

Audience favorites among the creation stories included the story of a giant used to create the world he once destroyed.

The tale was told by creating shadows of the actors, an effective and spot-on technique used throughout the show. As the giant stomped around, he pried off the heads of unlucky victims, who tucked their heads down as he grabbed, making it appear as if they had been beheaded.

The story of a spider that created the world by investigating and opening a clam was another audience favorite. Nusbaum and three other actors were comical while prying the clam’s jaws open, squatting, falling, grimacing and breathing heavily.

One story included a spontaneous musical number, complete with top hats, canes, guitar and ukulele. Another was told by a group of actors, using flashlights and a lamp to illuminate their faces while a nighttime forest scene was projected behind them.

Students had the opportunity to collaborate with Hargrave Pate by including skills in dance, drawing, set design and music into different creation stories.

The Haka War Dance, choreographed by student Katie Doll, was a particularly strong number, with actors running onto the stage and beating on their thighs and upper arms, stomping, gritting their teeth, sticking their tongues out and shouting.

The strength of the entire cast was illustrated in the show, which gave each actor a chance to tell a story or play a central role, highlighting their own skills and weaving the creation stories seamlessly from one tale to the next.

Some were great at expressions and storytelling, like Speaker #1, Krasel Morales.

Others were brilliant at playing multiple characters and making each one unique.

Speaker #6, Eric Dobson, was terrifying as Crocodile and also played Wind, Coyote and Dragon. Speaker #7, Louis Fuentes, received chuckles from the audience for bringing humor to his roles of Death and Unicorn and also played Earth Starter.

Maggie Herlocker, a sophomore liberal studies major, thought the play was interesting. It deviated from traditional plays in structure, which was useful for telling multiple creation stories that can be interpreted in many ways, she said.

“I think it’s good for people to see other types of plays apart from the traditional ones,” Herlocker said.

The show runs March 5-8 and 11-13 at 7:30 p.m. and March 9 at 2 p.m. in Larry Wismer Theatre. Tickets can be bought online or at the box office. Advance prices are $15 general, $13 senior and $6 students/children. Tickets are $2 more at the door.

Ashiah Scharaga can be reached at [email protected] or @AshiahD on Twitter.

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Theater professors, students weave thought-provoking creation stories into show