“A Tapestry of Medieval Life” is a drama about medieval life complete with music of the time, compiled from period documents, directed by author Jenny Egan. The cast features well-known Idyllwild actors Scott Wilson, Derrik Lewis, Barbara Rayliss, Rena Lekach and Marilyn Beauchesne.
This production signals a debut of Voices – an Idyllwild Chamber Consort. Why Voices? “The word resounds on many levels. The human voice can speak, can sing, can murmur or cry out. Musical instruments also have voices. So do animals. So does the wind,” muses Egan.
“Tapestry” is an enlarged and revised version of the program premiered at the Metropolitan Museum of Art by the nonprofit Four Winds Theatre Inc., the first ongoing documentary theater in America. Written and directed by the Four Winds founder and artistic director Egan, the “Tapestry” cast included the distinguished Alexander Scourby and Broadway actress Elizabeth Parrish.
Hailed by the New York Times as “a new perspective on the arts,” the Four Winds productions employed dialogue taken exclusively from primary sources. “Voices from the period without modern interpolation speak eloquently to our troubled era. Sometimes, when we listen to voices of the past, we hear ourselves talking,” said Egan.
“Documentary theater is compilation. The choice was artistic,” said Egan. “Based on the premise that a play could form a plot with dialogue derived entirely from actual writings of individuals living during a period or who witnessed an event, one finds a coherent theme that presents cues to the essence of social experience; the material itself makes you understand,” Egan suggests.
Whether currents of the period reflected religion, superstition, music, art, romance or views of social mores, Four Winds’ portrayals of historical accounts during the American Revolution, the conquest of Mexico or enlightenment in England were based on direct accuracy. For instance, the troupes’ production on the topic of immigration due to relevance, was staged at the Statue of Liberty Museum in New York.
Egan is a relatively recent transplant from New Mexico. Her journey, heavily researched and preceded by extensive traveling to a multitude of California’s small towns, landed her unequivocally in Idyllwild. Artistic sensibility and a love of nature determined this was the place to continue her life-long contribution to the art of documentary theater and teaching.
Egan conceived of documentary theater as a genre as a young student of history and art in NYC. As founder and artistic director of Four Winds, Egan won the Clarence Derwent Award for her debut on Broadway as Mary Warren in “The Crucible.” She created roles in the American premieres of plays by Albee, Arrabal and Ionesco, and was a frequent performer on television and in film.
She’s a recipient of two Ford Foundation grants to be assistant director of the New York Shakespeare Festival and the Lincoln Center Repertory Company. Egan has authored and produced more than 15 documentaries; she holds a doctorate in Humanities from New York University where she taught. Recently, she was honored with a Distinguished Alumna Citation from Grinnell College for her work in documentary dramas.
Author of five theater-related texts, including “A Space in Time,” 2011 Lumina Press, Egan provides succinct guidance for documentary theater creation.
“It’s my impression that Idyllwild is ripe for developing its theater activity and would benefit from a teaching center. In order to produce and maintain quality theater productions, directors benefit when actors with homogenous training achieve congruency by employing similar techniques. It’s a weighty consideration,” said Egan.
“Tapestry” stages fireside, Tuesday evening, April 24, at the Idyllwild Library. Admission is free. A tech and dress rehearsal, open to the public, will begin at 3 p.m. The performance begins at 6 p.m.
Friends of the Idyllwild Library sponsors the event.