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Between Trains: The Nakedness of Becoming


Between Trains
by Juanita Rockwell and directed by Leslie Felbain in it's first fully staged production at the University of Maryland Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center is a theatrical experience aimed at addressing all the senses. Start with water dripping from the ceiling of the performance space and puddling on the floor. Eventually, in the mini lake, Dawkes (played by Aaron Bliden), a benign crazy man, floats his toy sailboat. He sits in the shallow water, but did the Dresser mention Wendell, the protagonist who emerges from a fetal curl at the edge of this lake? Wendell played by Kelly McGuigan stands up slowly in the darkened theater. Her youthful female figure and blond hair conjure Botticelli's Venus in his painting "The Birth of Venus," and, yes, Wendell is naked, though quickly shielded from view with a shocked stranger's newspaper. Soon after, she finds a coat in a valise left by a careless traveler.


Hunger presents itself as a basic human need--Wendell, who first has no clothes, also has no food. When she finds a dog biscuit in the pocket of the newly acquired coat, the owner of the so-called cookie makes her read what is inscribed on the hard surface of the bone-shaped biscuit. "For Dawkes." "That's me," he says. She gives it back saying she is so hungry, but he licks it, then bites into it. Is he a dog masquerading as a human? Wendell, who has now migrated from Venus on the half shelf to the naked Eve expelled from the Garden of Eden, takes on the life of Alice-in-Wonderland--what happens if she had eaten the bone cookie? Would Wendell, like Alice, grow into a giant? A midget?

The Dresser doesn't know, because the scene quickly changed to a primitive version of the Tom Jones eating scene (in the film based on Henry Fielding's novel by the same name). Carrying a picnic thrown into a checkered cloth, Momo and Mimi erupted on stage bantering in a strange language of their own making. Mimi says, "Warm encrusted lamborghini mahi mahi xbox botox." Momo answers, "Sweet godiva spagghettini drown in oil well buttered rolex." Is this a food fight or are they playing like two rutting mammals ready to engage in a procreative act? As Wendell hid under a railroad station bench, Momo (Mark David Halpern) and Mimi (Judith Ingber) carelessly allowed an apple to escape from the picnic cloth and the apple rolled to Wendell's open hand. Later like Eve, she got her bite, but no more before Mimi snatched the apple from her mouth. A compassionate hot dog vendor (Zachary Fernebok) with a tiny points-of-light umbrella (don't expect this parasol to shield the user from sun or rain) struck a Depression era bargain with her and she walked away with not one, but two hot dogs. DSC_5306HotDogs.jpg


While the audience, sitting in two sets of seats that faced each other with the performance space positioned like a runway between, did not smell those hot dogs, the man smoking a cigarette made up for that lacking olfactory experience. The auditory was best experienced through the sound design and original songs of Chas Marsh. Even before the show began, musicians circulated through the audience. DSC_3957Saxman.jpgOne played a saxophone; another a guitar and ukulele. Plain lyrics were married to simple melodies. This musical approach worked for a sojourn of a naïve like Wendell. For example, the lyrics to "No Sense" is set to a lilting ditty that sticks in the head.

one word followed by another word
followed by another word
followed by another word
shattering music
making no sense
shattering music
no sense


The Dresser believes that she has provided enough of the playwright's process to say that the play is about process, the process of sensing and becoming. As the playwright states in her notes, Between Trains is a journey through the six realms of Samsara. Those realms from bottom to top deal with hell, hungry ghosts, animals, humans, demi-gods, and gods. It's a subject to pour a lifetime of study, but the Dresser thinks the audience can be ignorant about the playwright's inspiration and still leave the play with a lot to think about. From the beginning, the Dresser got a lot to ponder from Rockwell's New York workshop of this play done in 2006.


What worked best about this production seen November 19, 2008, was the moments of stop-action dramatic imagery and that the cast, though for the most part are students, did outstanding work in their roles. Some of the actors performed several roles. Over the last couple of years, the Dresser has seen most of these actors in other productions directed by Leslie Felbain, including The Ash Girl, The Green Bird, Mad Breed, and What's a Little Death.

By accident (when she saw the publicity photos), the Dresser discovered that she missed a dramatic projection--the face of a character called professor was projected in the pond. DSC_4903-preview.jpgFrom where the Dresser sat, she not only could not see it, but had no idea what Wendell was doing on her hands and knees at the edge of the puddled water. In fact, the Dresser believes that this scene contributed to the Dresser thinking the 90-minute intermission-less play needed to be cut by ten to fifteen minutes.

Wendell's journey deals with stuckness particularly at the end of the play as her train approaches. When the train comes, does she board? In "John Deere," Michael Wurster grapples with the stark reality of getting stuck in the journey out of his past.


I'm wearing this gold and green t-shirt.
John Deere ....... Moline, Illinois......... est. 1837

I was born in Moline August 8, 1940.
My father worked for John Deere at the time.
He was an industrial engineer.

When I was a child my cousin Martha,
who was several years younger than I,
bit me on the nose.

When Katho and I went west
to Gothenburg Nebraska at Christmas 1982,
we stayed overnight in Moline.

We stayed overnight at an Econo Lodge
right across from a John Deere facility.

In the morning
we had breakfast at a Denny's
right beside the motel.
Outside the window we could see
a big billboard: John Deere.

When we got back on the road after breakfast,
I said to Katho,
"I think that was cousin Martha
in the booth behind us at Denny's."

Katho said,
"Why didn't you speak to her?"

What would I have said?

by Michael Wurster
published in Along These Rivers: Poetry & Photography from Pittsburgh, edited by Judith R. Robinson & Michael Wurster

Copyright © 2008 Michael Wurster

Photos by Stan Barouh


Comments (1)

This play reminds me of the experimentation of the 60's. How did the audience like it, I wonder. It seems plotless which is fine but I am not clear about the play's continuity. Fascinating write up.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on November 23, 2008 10:11 AM.

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