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Dare You Enter The Cauldron of Destiny? 

Dell'Arte's Thesis Festival returns in person

click to enlarge Laura Jill Murillo Hart and Mark Farrell perform "As the World Rises and Falls."

Photo courtesy of Dell'Arte International

Laura Jill Murillo Hart and Mark Farrell perform "As the World Rises and Falls."

I strongly recommend you do because you'll find live theatre within. After more than a year of online performances, the Dell'Arte graduating MFA class of 2021 is going out in a style truly their own, with four original works under the umbrella title of The Cauldron of Destiny. That is the great joy of the Dell'Arte experience — performers with the freedom to create every aspect of their shows, from writing to costume and set design to sound and lighting to direction and performance.

"El Velorio (The Funeral)"

Select members of the audience are invited to participate in the funeral of Mexican-American family patriarch Julian Espinoza. But some uninvited guests show up, too, bringing to light aspects of his life (almost) no one expected to celebrate. Julian is cleverly represented by a puppet who can interact with some of the funeral attendees to reveal the skeletons in his closet. The piece is performed in both English and Spanish, which is a little challenging for those of us with minimal Spanish, and I was concerned I might be missing nuances in the script. However, strong performances by creators Julieta Garza and Oscar Nava ensure the important elements are understood by all — the surprise ending outside in the school gardens is particularly poignant.

"As the World Rises and Falls"

After a funeral, what do you need? Why, clowns, of course. Although, these two clowns have been living in the ruins of their old circus for the past two years, after an unfortunate incident with an audience member and a green polyester sweater closed them down. Now the site is scheduled for demolition, but the pair believe they can save it by reviving their favorite acts and teaching a rat to fly. It's amazing what an acid trip after two years of eating canned beans and sleeping on cardboard can cause a pair of crazy clowns to do. Created and performed in equal parts joy and sadness by Laura Jill Murillo Hart and Mark Farrell, with a cameo appearance by Nate FitzSimons.

"Re-"

Just imagine if you could construct a whole new reality for yourself — a reality necessitated by the complete disintegration of society — in which there is no pain and you are all you need. But there's a catch. You can keep making your reality better and better; all you have to do is give up a memory to the supercomputer that now runs the world. The inevitable end result is a supercomputer that knows everything but is nothing and humans (if they can still be called that) existing in virtual bubbles of complete unreality, disconnected from everything with any emotional value. Creator Sarah Kei Wegmuller challenges us to own our memories as our true human selves in this powerful, disturbing piece.

"Emperor Norton's Manifest Destiny"

In 1859, Joshua Norton, of San Francisco, declared himself Emperor of the United States of America after going bankrupt and losing his mind. Dustin Curry and Nate FitzSimons, in the guise of sidewalk shysters, resplendently re-enact the Emperor's story, interspersed with bursts of accordion and banjo music ("God's favorite instruments," they claim). In their version, the Emperor (a casualty of the American Dream) breaches the Redwood Curtain, observes that the trees are "ready for mass consumption" and establishes the Norton Imperial Lumber Company. But redemption is at hand when he finally realizes that freedom, not the oppression of others, brings happiness.

It's been a year of great challenges for performing artists everywhere, so the students are to be commended for developing a quartet of exceptionally strong pieces. It's also been a year of big changes at Dell'Arte and the school anticipates announcing more changes for the upcoming academic year in the next few weeks. But as long as they can continue to attract and train the caliber of performers represented by this year's graduating class, there should be plenty more excellent theater to come.

Four more festival nights are open to up to 35 audience members each night; reservations are required and tickets are pay-what-you-can, with a suggested price of $10. It's a steal for the first live theatrical experience in more than a year. On Thursday, May 20 and Saturday, May 22, both shows are in the Carlo Theatre; on Friday, May 21 and Sunday, May 23, the shows are split between the Carlo ("El Velorio") and the Big Top Revival Tent ("As the World Rises and Falls").

Pat Bitton (she/her) is a freelance writer/editor based in Eureka who is theoretically retired but you know how that goes.

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