Spider Bites

Spider Bites
Theatre of NOTE




O, what a juicy treat for the senses: the scattered ramblings of that seriously demented LA-based playwright-poet Jacqueline Wright—who has a “spider in a glass and an egg up her ass,” an honor here transferred to one of her colorfully offbeat characters—collected together and unswervingly performed under the fittingly ominous blanket title Spider Bites.

Now premiering at that relentlessly courageous tiny Hollywood storefront affectionately known to all fans of counterculture theatrics as Theatre of NOTE, Spider Bites pounces on its eagerly willing prey in 11 short but unrelated scenes which, under Dan Bonnell’s superbly inspired direction, are tied together as effortlessly—and creatively—as any thread of troubling dreams might be.

As with her disturbingly brilliant play Eat Me, which debuted to considerable and most deserved kudos at NOTE in 2004, Wright’s Bites are at once intricately nuanced and boldly horrific, her language both jarringly profane and yet delicately gossamer in its evocative poetics. “Jesus said he could not save me,” a character tells us, “and to try back during normal business hours.” Neither Williams nor Spillane could be more evocative in the vividly haunting images of everyday life, with all its inequities and its disappointments, Wright so effectively conjures.


Existing in Wright’s frequently grimy and often bizarrely hilarious world, a depressed insurance adjustor (Scott McKinley) wonders in his Motel 6 mirror if Indians had ex-wives as he readies for an evening off on a surely futile new hunt, musing that he must “get into the shower and wash out that gray and romance some local girl in thinking that I’m Elvis.”

A little girl (the mesmeric and always fearless Kirsten Vangsness) tries to convince her mother (Lauren Letherer) that it was the family dog who scribbled the crayon animals on the walls, a fact that would be substantiated by the drawings themselves (McKinley, Mandi Moss, and Dave Wilcox standing by with beneficent smiles in cartoon character costuming) if Mom would stop beating the innocent pup and open her eyes to their patient presence in the room.

And in Beautiful, a frail ex-flower child (Lynn Odell) tries to explain to her friend (Moss) why she is preparing to climb up the hill behind her nondescript suburban home to die, but only after passing her lilac painted walking stick on to her successor.


There is simply magnificent work created here by this dedicated ensemble of players, easily establishing the inherent “sadness of 4:28am,” the time when, I suspect, Wright sets down her most prolific ruminations. Still, the grandest honors must go to Bonnell and his co-conspirator, set designer Teresa Shea, who together have mastered an unstoppable vision of how to take this unearthly and über-talented wordsmith’s Kerouac-strewn thoughts off the page and turn them into a fascinating, breathtaking piece of theatrical invention that seems to weave from Beckett to Shepard to Lett, all of it appearing to be inspired by a austerely financed roadshow company from Cirque du Soleil.

There’s a squeaky trapdoor leading down stone stairs to the performing space’s actual cellar, an onstage shallow pool able to be walked into, shoes and all, despite the clearly viewable underwater lighting (so enhancing the most indelible piece of the evening, George and Carrie, with McKinley and Odell searingly heartbreaking as two lonely office coworkers awkwardly bonding in his lonely cubicle); an oversized Dali-inspired harp mounted on the back wall that morphs into a bed before depositing its troubled occupant (Letherer) into what is presumably the bathtub where she’s to bleed out her last thoughts; and a riveting monologue from Vangsness dubbed simply Remember Him, with her ultra-white face merely a disembodied head protruding from a curtain while a spotlight is reflected on it from the bottom of a black tray as she rages on about the guy who took her love and “shoveled it in with a short stack of jokers.”

If you’re looking for a coherent little story to follow and see resolve to the end, try another venue. Although there are ongoing topics Wright absurdly, often shockingly explores concerning the nature of lies and punishment in Spider Bites (a world where, as she puts it, “beauty looks like death and death looks like beauty”), there’s unapologetically no real connecting throughline here except perhaps to further solidify the notion that Jacqueline Wright should possibly be committed.

As long as her attendants keep her hands free of the restraints and are faithful in supplying the means for her to continue to chronicle her particularly astute and poetic predicament with the unending puzzlements of our human condition, maybe it would be best to just make her as comfortable as possible.

Spider Bites plays through Oct. 4 at Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd, Hollywood, CA; for tickets, call 323.856.8611. For more information, visit www.theatreofnote.com

TRAVIS MICHAEL HOLDER teaches acting and theatre/film history at the New York Film Academy’s west coast campus at Universal Studios. He has been writing about LA theatre since 1987, including 12 years for BackStage, a 23-year tenure as Theatre Editor for Entertainment Today, and currently for ArtsInLA.com. As an actor, he received the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Best Actor Award as Kenneth Halliwell in the west coast premiere of Nasty Little Secrets at Theatre/Theater and he has also been honored with a Drama-Logue Award as Lennie in Of Mice and Men at the Egyptian Arena, four Maddy Awards, a ReviewPlays.com Award, both NAACP and GLAAD Award nominations, and six acting nominations from LA Weekly. Regionally, he won the Inland Theatre League Award as Ken Talley in Fifth of July; three awards for his direction and performance as Dr. Dysart in Equus; was up for Washington, DC’s Helen Hayes honors as Oscar Wilde in the world premiere of Oscar & Speranza; toured as Amos “Mr. Cellophane” Hart in Chicago; and he has traveled three times to New Orleans for the annual Tennessee Williams Literary Festival, opening the fest in 2003 as Williams himself in Lament for the Moths and since returning to appear in An Ode to Tennessee and opposite Karen Kondazian as A Witch and a Bitch. Never one to suffer from typecasting, Travis’ most recent LA performance, as Rodney in The Katrina Comedy Fest, netted the cast a Best Ensemble Sage Award from ArtsInLA. He has also been seen as Wynchell in the world premiere of Moby Pomerance’s The Good Book of Pedantry and Wonder and Frank in Charles Mee’s Summertime at The Boston Court Performing Arts Center, Giuseppe “The Florist” Givola in Brecht’s The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui for Classical Theatre Lab, Ftatateeta in Shaw’s Caesar and Cleopatra at the Lillian, Cheswick in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest at the Rubicon in Ventura, Pete Dye in the world premiere of Stranger at the Bootleg (LA Weekly Award nomination), Shelly Levene in Glengarry Glen Ross at the Egyptian Arena, the Witch of Capri in Williams’ The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore at the Fountain, and Dr. Van Helsing in The House of Besarab at the Hollywood American Legion Theatre. As a writer, he has also been a frequent contributor to several national magazines and five of his plays have been produced in LA. His first, Surprise Surprise, for which he wrote the screenplay with director Jerry Turner, became a feature film with Travis playing opposite John Brotherton, Luke Eberl, Deborah Shelton and Mary Jo Catlett. His first novel, Waiting for Walk, was completed in 2005, put in a desk drawer, and the ever-slothful, ever-deluded, ever-entitled Travis can’t figure out why no one has magically found it yet and published the goddam thing. www.travismichaelholder.com