Visceral, intimate and immersive, The Lady in Red Converses with Diablo at [email protected] is an experimental play that seamlessly integrates music, dance, drama, storytelling, and video. In their three-month, site-specific art residency, the talented members of In The Basement Theater Company (ITB) managed to create a memorable, and moving theatrical production. As evident in the evocative visuals, Sophia Schrank, the writer, director and co-founder of this dance-driven theater group asserts that her role is not only to generate text, but also to create circumstances that are ripe for visual storytelling.
Located in the basement of a repurposed hospital, each scene is designed to utilize the particular function and character of the largely varied hospital rooms. In terms of narrative and emotive experience, a performance that takes place in a bathroom differs radically from a performance in a former morgue, so that the rooms function not only as a background, but almost as characters in the play.
In addition to the brilliant utilization of this haunting space, dividing audience members into very small groups creates an intimacy, not only between audience and performers, but also between audience members who happen to share the experience. Following a particularly demanding scene, my experience of standing at the end, in close proximity to a sweaty performer, drastically differs from sitting in a bathtub next to a singing bard. Similarly, verbal exchanges and body language communication between audience members in response to such performances create a momentary bond between strangers.
To give a brief synopsis, The Lady in Red Converses with Diablo is a story of a girl who gives everything up to appeal to the “diablo,” the devil. Influenced by mythology, allegorical storytelling and film, Schrank conceived Diablo as a piece about a state of reckless self-abandonment. Her work also largely draws on personal experience. After graduating from Carnegie Mellon University with a B.F.A. in drama, the writer found herself back at her hometown in San Francisco, at a crossroads, contemplating where she had come from and where she wanted to go next. “I’d take lots of long walks in the mission district, digging for ideas,” she confides. These led her into traditional Mexican mask shops, underground performance venues and libraries, where she discovered the “Diablo” folklore from the west coast.
Her fascination with folklore and storytelling, in conjunction with her experience of moving to Brooklyn for the [email protected] residency, were crucial in her writing process. In addition, she stresses that besides her “endless conversations” with NYC based ITB co-founders (Adrian Enscoe and Katya Stepanov), her largest inspiration of all was thinking of her colleagues and wanting to play to their strengths as performers.
Conveyed with an emotional rigor outside of real-time logic, the story is largely based on Schrank’s deeply personal experience of moving to Brooklyn as a young artist, especially in regards to the “pressures to achieve greatness with little margin of error.” She explores in this play how such pressures to fit into certain molds can affect people’s sense of self-worth, particularly in times of transition. Schrank sums up that having this much flexibility in content and form as [email protected] residents has been “a dream come true.”