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Ceremony, by Michael Kass

“Michael,” she said, “it’s not going to work out.”

Michael Kass was a 35-year-old white male who, along with other “First World problems,” looked to go zero-for-eternity in relationships. He had a prestigious job and the trimmings. Then one day he up and quit. To change his ways forever he flew to Peru and partook in the mystical ayahuasca tea ceremony. He heard it would be like “20 years of therapy in six hours.”


Said to taste like rotting mold, Ayahuasca contains DMT (Dimethyltryptamine). The brownish liquid’s a “graduate level hallucinogen” that makes LSD “trips” look like cheap carnival rides. People vomit – their emotional baggage, some claim – and have visions of paths and maps and cosmic unity and, as Jeremy Narby says in his controversial book Intelligence in Nature: An Inquiry into Knowledge, they see entwined spirals like the “double helix” of DNA.

“The zone of what we think of as uniquely human,” Narby writes, “is gradually shrinking.” He adds that “plant communication is likely to be as complex as within a brain.” These revelations have come, in part, from research with ayahuasca.

In a performance at once personal, funny, and spellbinding, Kass literally walks you through his tea ceremony: shaman guides, freaky expectations, the sights and sounds around the circle of 19 imbibers (screaming, blithering, vomiting), and the morbid fear of being shown “who I am” face to face.

SD Fringe Festival: Nightbird

  • RAW Space, 921 First Avenue, downtown
  • $10

Nightbird, by Eddie Yaroch

There’s probably a new term for it these days. “Co-dependence”? The terms change while the condition remains the same. The old one, “neurotic interlock,” is more vivid: partners in a relationship entwine and enforce each other’s neuroses. On the surface a couple may seem to function quite well, though the inner dynamic between them is toxic.

Eddie Yaroch has become one of San Diego’s most dependable actors. With Nightbird, he unveils two more impressive skills: he wrote and directed the compelling piece in which hope vies with inevitability on stage — and in the audience.

As the old song goes, it’s not the bullet that kills you, it’s the hole.

To say Sarah has “low self-esteem” just labels her without specifics. As performed by Kristin Woodburn, she’s much more than a case study; she’s such a fractured sweetheart you can’t help but pull for her as Mark, her jealous boyfriend (a convincingly sinister Max Macke), pulls her down.

But then — what? He doesn’t?

Vimel Sephus’ excellent Woody narrates the story. In her eyes, Woody may be the only being, other than Mark, who’s paid Sarah any attention. Woody’s motives are clearly human, not sexual. He sees another, freer Sarah, whose only joy is dancing, and tries to help break the Gordian Knot of her poisoned life with Mark.

Eddie Yaroch — pronounced “Yaro,” which wastes a perfectly good “ch” – just sayin’ — writes (and directs) with a natural clarity rare in writers who don’t work all the time (and often in those who do). Given the sharpness of the dialogue, the depth of the characters, and the effective arc of the piece, Yaroch should write a lot more from now on.

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