THE 8th LAND
With the world premiere of William Maranda’s The 8th Land, Pi Theatre continues its recent policy of free admission at the door. Those who want to plan ahead and guarantee themselves a seat have the option to pay.
Ironically, this intelligent, didactic play concerns the long-term costs of a world in which everything seems free. Its eco-message: pay now— at the very least pay attention—or you’ll pay big-time later.
The 8th Land tells the story of Te-Te (Parnelli Parnes), the last king of Easter Island, struggling to deal with his dying mother Oehe (Suzanne Ristic) and his dying land. Maranda has written a Polynesian tragedy in the Greek style, with rich formal language, a chorus and meddling gods. Adding a strong cast and spectacular design elements, director John Wright melds the play into compelling theatre.
Loincloth-clad Parnes delivers a powerfully committed performance as the desperate king of a starving people. Yams, the staple crop, no longer grow in a soil denuded of trees, cut down to erect the giant stone heads in homage to gods and dead rulers.
We know, retrospectively, that was the likely cause of Easter Island’s mysterious demise. But Te-Te knows only that prosperity and abundance have vanished. He blames “Northerners,” who raid the island and steal the yams. The chorus blames the mythical Lobster Woman. The ghost of the first king, Hotu Matua (Alvin Sanders), who brought the people to this place they call the 8th land, blames Te-Te for not complaining loudly enough to the goddess Hiva.
Hiva (Linda Quibell) tells Te-Te the islanders have no one to blame but themselves. With Oehe, who begs her son not to cut down the last great tree, she’s the voice of reason. But they’re overruled by male voices like that of the sky god Nuku (Simon Webb, looking incongruously like a dead Civil War general). Te-Te dreams of finding a new island to colonize. But for him, like for us, there’s only here.
Musician Pepe Danza drives the action with a fantastic soundscape of rhythmic hand-drums and exotic percussive instruments, activating the wonderful chorus of the dead (Sarah Afful, Spencer Atkinson, Nick Fontaine, Thrasso Petras), the “flies and fleas” who thrive while the people die. They chant, dance, fight and paddle upon and around David Roberts’ handsome platform stage, beautifully choreographed by Colleen Lanki.
Del Surjik’s lighting and Marti Wright’s remarkable costumes enhance the visual experience.
From time to time the drums and other exotica reminded me uncomfortably of old jungle movies. But the 8th land is a jungle without trees. Once yielding great riches (oil-sands, anyone?), it now leaves a legacy of dust and ashes.