It’s in roughly the third scene of Circle X’s world premiere of “Hole in the Sky” that the moon rises behind the actors.
Not a prop moon or a piece of scenery - the actual moon…because we’re sitting on the edge of horse stable deep in the Valley - (Lake View Terrace to be exact).
That moon and that moment is spectacular. There’s a little dirt being kicked up by a horse in her pasture, a giant tree overhead - it’s magical.
I really want to tell you that everything else about this production of Octavio Solis’ script is that good because this is a play about California. This isn’t another New York apartment play, it’s a play about another Valley up north: a valley with cows and alfalfa. The kind of place where white people have been tending the land for generations - all the way back to when they took it from the Indians and started using the water from the salmon streams to feed crops and cattle.
There are a lot of different things driving “Hole in the Sky” but most of them center around water - or really the lack of it. This being a California play - we’re in the middle of bad drought. The salmon are struggling, the farmers are pissed they have to shut off their wells and everyone is on edge. Then there’s the mysterious death of a child ages ago. Then there’s the two mestizo brothers who are at war. Then, there’s cancer…and the potential hacking…and oh, yeah that gigantic fire in the distance.
It’s all starting to sound a bit much, isn’t it?
That’s the problem with “Hole in the Sky” despite its noble intentions, or maybe because of them, the play never really finds its true voice and instead just keeps layering on more details and more ‘drama’ - melodrama in fact.
By the time you get to the second act things begin to feel more like a soap opera than a play: you’ve got people sleeping with other people’s brothers, constant plot developments ratcheting up the already high stakes, one more critical detail and serious confrontation - but it all begins to feel a bit too much - like a desperate lover trying to explain how much they really, really love you.
Some of the fault lies in the script, some with the directions and a bit with the actors - but like that farmers well that’s been drawn from too many times it’s hard to know exactly who’s to blame.
All this is a shame because Circle X is trying to do something really, really hard. They’re trying to do a site-specific play about the land under our feet. The pre-show announcement reminds us that there’s no smoking on the property because the Creek Fire came within 200 feet of the edge of the property. Every time the horses in the background shuffle around a cloud of fine dust reminds us how precious water is in our grand state. It’s a brilliant concept.
We need plays that tell these stories - but we also need plays that don’t try and tell all these stories all at the same time. Less isn’t more when it comes to a drought but a little bit less would have gone a long way in this play.
Circle X’s “Hole in the Sky” plays outdoors in Lake View Terrace through September 23rd.
Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes with one intermission.
Joseph D. Valdez and Michael G. Martinez star in the CIRCLE X THEATRE CO. world premiere production of “HOLE IN THE SKY” by Octavio Solis, directed by Kate Jopson and now playing at the COURTSHIP RANCH in Lake View Terrace. Photo credit: Jeff Galfer.