When Skylight Theatre decided to focus on female playwrights and directors this season, they were drawn to HUNGRY GHOST, a play penned by Lisa Sanaye Dring and directed by Jessica Hanna. It is always fascinating to gain insight into what inspires a writer, and Dring is no exception. To quote author Dring:
“I came across an interview with Christopher Thomas Knight, an infamous hermit who lived in the forest for 27 years without conversing with another human, and I thought – how did this man find freedom in solitude while the rest of us feel alienation, especially during the pandemic? The story grew from there to include those parts of ourselves that chase us around whether we want them to or not. It’s those forces beyond our consciousness that keep breaking in.”
Tasha Ames and Jennifer Soo – Photo by Grettel Cortes
Amanda (Tasha Ames) and Dean (Jennifer Soo) have just become homeowners for the first time. It seems that Dean inherited her mother’s secluded house when her mother died – even though the two had been estranged for years. The excited couple decide that it’s the perfect time to start a family. But when they enter the eerie house, they find that it has apparently been burgled – and that the burglar took only food. Could Dean’s mother be haunting the place? Or might it be a mysterious hermit who, rumor has it, lives in the forest surrounding their home?
Tasha Ames – Photo by Grettel Cortes
When Dean discovers that she is pregnant, all seems to be going according to plan – until she meets the interloper to her cottage in person. It is the enigmatic and very hungry hermit (Ben Messmer) who has been helping himself to the goodies in the cupboard. But something isn’t right about this. It seems that he is invisible to everyone except Dean – and it also seems that the two have a strange relationship which defies explanation. As the chilling story grows, it will upend everything that Dean believes in – and may just destroy her marriage.
Ben Messmer, Tasha Ames, and Jennifer Soo – Photo by Grettel Cortes
Director Hanna helms the story will compassion and care, ably assisted by the talented cast and production team. Kudos to Yuri Okahana-Benson for her excellent scenic design, Brandon Baruch for his lighting, Joseph Slawinski for sound design, and Mylette Nora for costumes. The thought-provoking but also sometimes humorous story delves into intriguing metaphysical questions – questions of social isolation, identity, being seen and seeing others, and the craving in us all to be truly free.
HUNGRY GHOST is a study of human beings as they come together and also may choose to be apart. It will certainly appeal to audiences who are struggling with questions which arose during the pandemic – the effects of social isolation and the need for other people. The play also examines a basic human need for love – as well as the conflict which may ensue when love clashes with the desire for separate personal identity. HUNGRY GHOST is a character-driven production which pinpoints provocative and challenging issues.
HUNGRY GHOST runs through October 1, 2023, with performances at 8:30 on Saturdays, at 3 p.m. on Sundays, and at 7:30 p.m. on Mondays (no Monday performance on 8/28 and 9/4). The Skylight Theatre is located at 1816 ½ North Vermont Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90027. Tickets ranged from $20 to $38 (students $20, seniors $33, pay it forward up to %76, Pay-What-You-Can with code ACCESS). For information and reservations, call 213-761-7061 or go online.