THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX 

New Heritage playwright offers challenges in Avatara

Avatar: 1. Hinduism a god's coming down in bodily form to the earth; incarnation of a god. 2. Any incarnation or embodiment, as of a quality or concept in a person.

This dictionary definition of "avatar" may give some clue as to the theme of Sandra Cavanaugh's intriguing new play Avatara. Or it may not. The script raises many questions about life, religion, reincarnation, extrasensory powers, the nature and magic of the universe, Karma, purposes, choices and ultimate responsibility. Fortunately, the playwright lacks the hubris to think she can provide all the answers. So that leaves the play, although enjoyable--even fascinating--with lots of questions. But the Saturday night audience must have been in a questioning mood, because they gave the show an enthusiastic standing ovation.

The framework for this examination of life's meaning and purpose is placed in a college town in the west (maybe Boise?). Michael Fisher, a young teacher at the university just moving into his comfortable, middle class house, is suddenly engulfed by a disparate group of people--12 to be precise--who descend upon him in answer to an irresistible urge to make him their spiritual teacher. A stretch here? Maybe. But the playwright has them arrive in such a flurry, that the scene is filled with humor, confusion and a feeling of excitement.

Michael is portrayed with warm sincerity by Drew Ebersole, who even makes miracles seem believable. Ebersole evinces an inner peace and intensity that give him power and the ability to manage his unusual house guests (and keep them from killing each other). Although he repeatedly says he's just a "regular guy," many of the disciples insist upon viewing him as a messiah or a prophet, especially after he demonstrates his "healing touch." As many disciples throughout history have learned, the road to paradise and/or spiritual development is not an easy one.

The other cast members do a remarkable job at creating interesting personas. Peter Steadman, the first person to find Michael, is played with great gusto and bluster by James B. Fisk, who gradually learns to control his "big mouth." Juliet Noonan is the flamboyant Toni Pierce, a professional psychic with a tempestuous temper. The gentle brother and sister hippies, Hannah and Josh White, are made amusing and lovable by Luke Massengill and Jamie Farmer Ebersole and the "famous" Judy Simon stalks the stage in elegant fashions and a dazzling smile, thanks to Leta Neustaedter.

The needy young girl, Monica Adamson, is portrayed with sweetness and charm by Annie Bulow. Her attachment and love for the mysterious John Shepherd become catalysts for possible tragedy. John, the last person to arrive on the scene, is rather casually played by Michael Denney with a very laid back personality but strong feelings and strange knowledge. By the play's end, we suspect he may be an angel, but he goes on his way with a practiced, jaunty wave.

Mitch McNees, as Phillip Parkeras Smythe III, gives new meaning to the "poor little rich boy" life, and his desperate craving to be a part of the group adds to his character's appeal. Lydia Davis, portrayed by Premdaya, delivers pizza and then just stays on. She is also a math student at the university, but her character in the script doesn't seem as developed as some of the others.

Craig Kreiser is perfect as the analyzing, questioning Gavin Crown, who will only believe what he can see and experience himself. Kreiser's facial expressions reflect his doubts and skepticism as much as his lines do. Amy Gile is exuberant and fun as Elizabeth Fairchild, who unsuccessfully fights her attraction to Michael, their teacher. And Douglas Hoggatt is riveting in his portayal of the devout and fanatical Christian, Derek Milton.

If you don't spot some symbolism in these names, both I, and playwright Cavanaugh, will be surprised. While the play is spiritual in nature, it shouldn't offend anyone who has an open mind and has asked some of the same questions. However, the play needs to be tightened up, with fewer repetitious scenes and arguments. It runs three and a half hours, including two intermissions. Fortunately, the play starts at 7 p.m., with booths, card readings and other information available in the lobby from 6 p.m. to curtain time.

Avatara

Written and directed by Sandra Cavanaugh

Performed by The New Heritage Theatre Co. at Borah High School, 6001 Cassia

7 p.m. Wednesday to Saturday, Jan. 19 to 22; 2 p.m. matinee Sunday, Jan. 23

Tickets $25 general admission; $15 students and seniors; groups of 10 or more (pre-paid) $10 each

Reservations at 381-0958

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