Strange magic’s in the air at Ybor’s LAB Theater
“Don’t ever make a deal you don’t know the cost of.”
That line appears several times in Andra Laine Hunter’s The Abbey of the Holy Lonesome, now onstage – as a world premiere – at LAB Theater Project in Ybor City.
The Texas-based playwright was born and raised in Arkansas, where she learned about the superstitions, beliefs and rituals of the Ozarks. The central character in The Abbey of the Holy Lonesome, a sweet, neighborly woman known as Granny Binding, also happens to be a fully-invested mountain witch. She can read dreams and make predictions.
This complex character is played by Caroline Jett. “It’s very easy,” the actress reports, “for somebody to say ‘Well, she’s evil.’ But is she?
“As she says, ‘A woman’s feet set where they set. The path was never up to me.’ That she made a deal that she did not know the cost of. What do you do?”
As the story begins, Granny Binding is joined in the deep woods by Mary Larkin (Cheyenne De Barros), a restless young girl who desires to know what her future will bring. And Granny, with her spells and incantations, is the go-to for such things.
Mark Larkin comes to discover she will have three daughters.
“Andra uses the power of three over and over again, whether it’s a particular phrase, or it’s three times in different places,” Jett explains, “that trinity, that repetition in the calling of the threes is so remarkable in this script. It’s beautiful.”
The grown daughters (Shay St. Clair, Karena Stanley and Emma Hurlburt) are introduced in Act II (in a manner of speaking, the audience has already been exposed to them in the first act). From this point forward, The Abbey of the Holy Lonesome is almost supernatural in its mountain-magic weirdness, as it hurtles toward an unexpected and frightening climax.
A good part of the magic, admits Jett, is the playwright’s use of language. “It’s even written like poetry in the script,” she says, “unlike most scripts where your character says something and it just continues like a paragraph. The whole thig is one big, long poem.
“The language in it is so rich, and what is so wonderful about it was the continuing of, even once we got into performance, the other members of the cast saying ‘I just recognized this!’”
Jett is the company’s director-in-residence – she’s involved, in some capacity, with every production at LAB. She is also a member of the reading committee; LAB solicits unproduced scripts from all over the world.
That’s how The Abbey of the Holy Lonesome found them.
“I was enamored of it right away because of the imagery, the use of the folklore and the superstition and all of that,” Jett explains. “And it was originally submitted to us as a one-act.
“We went back to her and asked her if she had ever thought about expanding it, because we really don’t normally do one-acts. And she said ‘Funny that you say that. I just finished doing that.’ And she submitted the full script to us.
“And we loved it even more because of everything that was put into it.”
Directed by Katie Calahan, The Abbey of the Holy Lonesome is in its final weekend (Thursday, Friday and Saturday night, plus a Sunday matinee). Details and tickets are here.