Dallas — Imagine a post-apocalyptic, futuristic woman-centered and process-oriented Earth focused on harmony rather than bellicose and economic competition, and the protection of natural resources rather than its exploitation. Imagine the cultivation of indigenous deep-knowing, and unimaginably sophisticated technology, united seamlessly. Imagine a totally reinvented Earth eco and social system fairly ruled by queer women of color. Indigenous sci-fi meets environmental and social politics in Where Earth Meets the Sky, an innovative piece collectively devised by three talented Dallas area women of color, Edyka Chilomé (also as dramaturg), Ariana Cook (who plays Abeni), and Vanessa Mercado Taylor, who directed the piece for Cara Mía Theatre Company.
If David Bowie’s 1979 film The Man Who Fell to Earth (directed by Nicolas Roeg) would have an extraterrestrial pose as a human to save his dying planet, in the world premiere of Where Earth Meets the Sky, we have a descendant of the Earth, whited-haired Anghared262 (Gloria Vivica Benavides), come to the brown Root People (Earth dwellers) to recolonize it because their artificially created space Omni vessel is no longer able to sustain life after a thousand years in space. The basic conflict centers on whether or not Earth Root’s Council of Mothers accepts Abeni’s (Ariana Cook) perspective that those who made the earth a ravished desolation a 1,000 years ago and left to live in space do not have peaceful intentions and thus must be obliterated, or whether Seewu’s (Stefanie Tovar) perspective that Anghared262 has Root Memories therefore is one of them and can serve as a peaceful bridge between the present and the past — or in the play’s terminology, where the earth meets the sky.
Out of all of the performances and plays I have seen both in the current and distant past, this one stands out uniquely for several reasons. It is a collectively devised piece by three women of color who choose not only to create in this manner but to also integrate collectivity into the plot of the piece itself. The decision-making Council of Mothers is such a structure. Secondly, Where Earth Meets the Sky presents a post-apocalyptic vision of the earth as a newly invented place of peace and development, rather than the usual barren, violent and dystopic world that Hollywood regularly dishes out in their high-tech, blockbuster but thinly plotted films. Thirdly, this piece creates a corporeal, gestural language which enables a respectful and ritualist style of communication among the characters that is also quite legible to the audience. And lastly, this piece openly and directly addresses the issues of historical colonialism and its painful impact on the body of women.
I saw this play workshopped two years ago at the Latino Cultural Center, then only using the stage for the performance and the audience sitting. This time around, the full stage is employed and the visuals and technology have evolved nicely to create a sophisticated, futuristic look. The creative team includes scenic design by Christopher Taylor and Vanessa Mercado Taylor, a very earthy looking costume and make-up design by Ryan Matthieu Smith, lighting design by veteran collaborator Linda Blase, sound by Brianne Sargent, a very well integrated set of projections by Kate Ducey, sophisticated QLab programming by Mason Bunkleman, and properties by Ariana Cook.
In her usually committed acting style, Benavides puts her heart and soul into her role as Anghared262, who is torn between the lies she has been taught about the Earth and its people, and who they truly are. In the process she delivers a strong message about brown and black identity politics that at play today. Cook’s Abeni unwaveringly and convincingly sticks to her perspective, grounded in past histories of colonial and corporate greed. She does so while looking as a splendidly powerful woman of color. Tovar’s Seewu effectively persuades us to consider a more optimistic possibility in light of the destructive weight of history. Rather, she pleads for a recognition of our affinity as earth dwellers. There is a powerful segment in which she addresses origins in the world by brown and black peoples, short, stocky and strong, that redefines in the popular imagination such bodies with strength and beauty, but also as the first peoples of the Earth.
Frida Espinosa-Müller has a mostly non-speaking role as Leaning Strong, a spirit being whose power helps control Anghared262’s initial violent impulses, among others. Leaning Strong is the spirit of the earth’s deeper mysteries. Espinosa-Müller’s talent for physical theater shines as she only uses her body and articulates non-verbal sounds throughout the piece. Morgana Wilborn as Rosa Roja exerts her authority as an elder figure. The entire cast of 16 women and three men put forth an all-out effort, each contributing to the success of the whole. There are no weak links here. Notable is Iv Amenti as ensemble member and movement co-facilitator with Alexandra Hernandez. The corporeal language created plays a unique role as both a system of communication and an element of aesthetic, representational beauty.
Mercado Taylor pulls this entire cast together tightly and effectively, although I did miss seeing her in the lead role, which she played in the workshop version.
One minor spot where the representation might be a little tighter is in the first flashback. Having Anghared262 as a white-hair in that first ancient root memory seems a bit confusing. While the flashback and Anghared262’s participation in it is later clearly explained, as part of the initial few minutes of the play, one may wish to consider cueing the audience into realizing that this is Anghared262’s ancestor, a brown-hair, and not Anghared262’s current white-hair manifestation.
All in all Where Earth Meets the Sky is a must-see for anyone interested in innovative sci-fi theater with a clear environmental and social, woman-centered, POC message. Hopefully this won’t be the last we’ll see of theater with a similar theme.
» Teresa Marrero is Professor of Latin American and Latinx Theater in the Spanish Department at the University of North Texas. She an Advisory Board Member of the Latinx Theatre Commons, and a member of the American Theatre Critics Association.