Optical illusions and Sylvia Plath

Mystery Spot makes its debut at California Stage

Sylvia Plath’s back on this plane of existence, sent from heaven because she’s so dour. She’s got some unfinished business, of course, but the big question is: How will it ever get resolved if she’s spending all her time with a college boy from UC Santa Cruz? Dingo majors in women’s studies just to meet chicks—and the feminist poetic icon has set her sights on his love life and his day job at that famous coastal house of mirrors/tourist trap, the Mystery Spot.

That’s the premise for Mystery Spot, which has its world premiere this Friday at California Stage under the direction of Ray Tatar. Written by Northern California playwright Steve Lyons, the original play was one of four selected for the Ashland New Plays Festival in 2008, has had a staged reading at City Lights Books in San Francisco and won first prize in the 2010 Actors’ Theatre of Santa Cruz County playwriting contest.

Lyons told SN&R that he’d always wanted to set a play at the Mystery Spot, one of the Northern California coast’s best-known attractions. It’s full of oddities that challenge the perceptions, which is what Lyons’ play is also designed to do. “This is the first theater set that I know of that purposely creates optical illusions,” he said. “There’s nothing literal; everything is surreal and abstract.”

“What we’ve done is—the set designer had printed out gobs of scientific articles about the Mystery Spot and optical illusions—and we’re using the scientific basis of illusions to create the set.”

Lyons said he’d actually met a guy in Santa Cruz who had a degree in women’s studies. “I was at a party, and a friend of my wife’s was a man who had a degree in women’s studies,” he said. “I asked him, ‘Did it help you get laid?’ And he said no, which I don’t think is just.”

So Lyons wrote about Dingo, a young man from Oroville (Lyons’ hometown), who takes women’s studies at UC Santa Cruz in order to pick up women. He also gets a job at the Mystery Spot “to fund his womanizing,” said Lyons.

And there he meets Sylvia Plath, or rather, some phantasmal manifestation of Plath. “She helps Dingo with his love life, but she has her own hidden agenda for this,” said Lyon.

The role of the poet will be played by local actress Bonnie Antonini, who is also a poet (she’s had several poems published in SN&R). According to Lyons, that was a big plus.

“The Plath estate is run by her daughter, Frieda [Hughes],” said Lyons, “and they are notoriously difficult about permissions.” He was concerned about the problem, but Tatar told him that Antonini was a poet, and she sent Lyons some of her work. “Bonnie sent me this poem that was very Plathian—it was perfect!”

Perhaps Antonini—or Plath—will be able to set Dingo on a more poetic path. Stranger things have happened at the Mystery Spot.