On Stage

Mystery Spot

Putting the ‘stud’ in women’s studies

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

How would you feel about seeing a high-school student get aggressively felt up by the amorous ghost of Sylvia Plath? Do you want to find out more about the real and imagined gravitational anomalies that happen on a regular basis at the Santa Cruz Mystery Spot?

If the answers to the above questions are “sounds titillating” and “yes, please,” then you’ll want to reserve tickets to the final weekend of Mystery Spot at the iDiOM Theater.

To be fair, the student in question (Bellingham High School senior Austin Tuss) is portraying a college freshman, so it’s not like the ghost of Plath is committing some sort of sex crime by attempting to seduce a mere boy. On the other hand, Plath (Noelle Kurzen, playing the doomed scribe as what can be described as a “hot mess”) has an ulterior motive for wanting to get it on with a flesh-and-blood fella, so she’s not entirely blameless.

Before I get too far into the older woman/younger man debate, it’s probably time to share a little more about the machinations of the play, which was written by Steve Lyons, a California playwright who moved to Bellingham last year with his family.

“I had wanted to write a play set at the Santa Cruz Mystery Spot, home of the ubiquitous bumper stickers,” Lyons says of the production, which was also produced in Sacramento and won a couple awards in his home state. “I had also wanted to write a play where a regular guy from Oroville, Calif. becomes a women’s studies major at UC Santa Cruz so he can pick up girls.

“And I wanted to have an excuse to use the line ‘Sylvia Plath was some chick who felt sad and managed to turn it into a career.’ So Sylvia Plath is on the reading list for [his] women’s studies course. As the play developed, she worked her way into being an important character onstage.”

The story follows Dingo (Tuss),  a wannabe ladies man who declares himself a women’s studies major so he can learn more about women. In short order, he meets a strident feminist he’s interested in (Amanda Molsee), gets a job at the Mystery Spot, comes in contact with Plath, becomes friends with his employer (Beth Tyne, taking a small role and absolutely owning it) and tries desperately to lose his virginity.

When I went to the play on opening night, there were a few skipped lines and missed cues, but as the night went on it and the actors hit their stride, it soon became an enjoyable night at the theater, with laughs aplenty, food for thought and a remarkable amount of intelligent, feminist-centered dialogue. (Lyons attributes this to his wife, who has a degree in—you guessed it—women’s studies, and helped him with the language.)

I did have a bit of an issue with a few of the scene changes, which were abrupt enough to leave me confused about where the actors were supposed to be at that point in the play. Most of the time, however, I was on board with what was going down, and my confusion was momentary.

Grousing aside, it’s clear Tuss is meant to be an actor. He’s in pretty much every scene of the play and handled his line load with aplomb. But you need more than an ability to memorize lines to be successful onstage. When he was “on,” Tuss was a delight to watch. And yes, I’m including the scene in which a ghost attempts to take his virginity.

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