Scott Heim’s fantastic book “Mysterious Skin” was an impulse purchase one day about 15 years ago. I remember devouring the story about a boy who, at age eight, woke up underneath his house with no memory of the last few hours of his life. I was instantly intrigued. This is the stuff I love. And then when the character started thinking it might be because he had been abducted by aliens, well, I was even more fascinated.
Now, for anyone who has read the book or has seen the excellent film version by indie phenom Gregg Araki, you all know that not is all as what it seems in this story. And I won’t spoil any of the mystery for you. Suffice to say it’s disturbing and heartbreaking, but incredibly effective. I think I read the last page about fifteen times when I first finished it, just so I could savor the impact the book had on me.
Cut to September 2010, the East West Players—the longest running “theatre of color” in the United States—opens their 45th season with a theatrical adaptation of the book. Written by playwright Prince Gomolvilas and performed by an all Asian cast, the mystery of Mysterious Skin is lovingly adapted into a funny, difficult, moving, and distressing night of theatre that hits all the right notes of the book without compromising the harder-hitting moments that some might have found difficult to adapt.
The play is directed by Tim Dang on a stage that is encompassed by a large wire fence, similar to those found behind home plate of a baseball field. A full moon glows large in the center of the backdrop, changing frequently to offer muted pictures that give the scene a sense of place, while simple set pieces establish the minimal locations we visit throughout.
The story opens where we meet Brian Lackey (Scott Keiji Takeda), a nerdy college student meeting thrity-one year old Avalyn (Elizabeth Liang) for the first time. They stand in her bedroom, discussing why Brian contacted Avalyn in the first place: he thinks he’s been abducted by aliens. Having been abducted over twenty times herself, Avalyn, a socially awkward woman with no friends but a charming personality, is more than excited to help Brian recover the lost time he experienced in his childhood. He, in turn, is ready to finally figure out what happened so he can stop being haunted by the unknown.
Meanwhile, Neil McCormick (David Huynh) has recently arrived in New York City to start a new life with his best fag-hag Wendy (Christine Corpuz). But his never-ending desire to hustle his body for older men is upsetting to Wendy and she warns him that if he doesn’t stop, things could go terribly wrong. But he can’t shake the desire to please these men, and by the end of the show we will understand where that came from.
These two boys’ lives will soon connect and the mystery of Brian’s missing time will finally be resolved. But at what cost?
The East West Players production of Mysterious Skin is very well-crafted and the adaptation by Gomolvilas is impactful, falling nicely into a theatrical format. Many of the secondary characters are played by three actors who slip in and out of the various roles effectively. As for the leads, Takeda’s Brian is appropriately geeky and uncomfortable, although his breathy distress as he uncovers the truth about his past leans toward an amateurish display of “emotion.” Elizabeth Liang, however, is wonderful as Avalyn bringing much-needed humor and warmth to a difficult subject matter.
But it is David Huynh as Neil that is a revelation, mixing a seductive sexuality, deep-set pain, and an “everything’s cool” mask to create a memorable character that takes flight as soon as he appears on stage. Your eye is consistently drawn to him and the complexity of his character is handled with grace and ease.
I will admit that the dialogue seemed a bit rushed in the performance I attended. While overlapping dialogue feels natural in an ensemble show, here it seemed as though the actors were stepping on each other’s lines, which did take away from the emotion of the piece. If they pull back and allow the characters to “listen” to each other, the entire show would be that much more effective. As it is, it’s a compelling piece of theatre. With a few tweaks, it could be an award winner. That said, Liang and Huynh should be remembered come award time.
Which brings me to alien abductions. (That was a crappy segue, I know. It’s like suddenly saying, “which brings me to the subject of plums.)
Anyway… aliens. UFO’s. I’m fascinated by them. I’ve written a TV series about them and am always reading books about the possibilities of their existence. It’s so interesting to me that some day we might be able to meet an entity from outside of our world… some creature that could give us a bigger perspective on the way we live and how we live. That’s if they don’t zap us with a laser beam or vivisect us for sport.
Why, you might be asking, do I feel like I might have been abducted? Well, there are a few reasons why and it wasn’t until a trip to Greece did I really start to consider the possibility. Not that Greece has anything to do with it exactly, other than the fact that I was going down the list of strange experiences I’ve had and one of the people I was with became convinced I had been abducted.
So what happened to me? What vague incidents occurred that have me convinced I’ve experienced an alien presence? Here goes:
1) They say that people who have unexplained nose-bleeds might have been abducted and have had experiments performed on them. Sure, nose-bleeds happen to everyone and I didn’t think much about it until I looked back and realized that I used to get nosebleeds all the time. And not just those “oops, look at that little spot on my tissue” nosebleeds. My nosebleeds were gushers and would last for hours. I remember not being able to do my paper route one day because my nose just wouldn’t stop pouring out blood. Why did my nose bleed? No idea. It would just start happening. I remember waking up to a pool of blood on my pillow with no explanation for why it had started.
2) When I was reading UFO/Abduction Expert Whitley Streiber’s book “Communion,” I was taking it all with a grain of salt as he is a science fiction writer and could truly be making all of the crap up. Not that I wasn’t fully entertained, mind you, but I am a natural skeptic. “I WANT to believe” as the saying goes, but I rarely am convinced. But toward the end of the book, Strieber mentions that in order for the aliens to make their abductees forget their experience of being poked and prodded aboard their spaceships, they would tap the forehead of their victims with a metal rod. There would be a flash of light and suddenly all memories of the experience would be gone. Well, as soon as I read this I was shaken. You see, I would say that once every two years or so, I would have an incident where I’d be laying in bed, half asleep or trying to sleep, and I’d see a blinding flash of light. Because the room was dark, I’d immediately assume someone had come into my room and turned on the light. This act alone would annoy me, so I’d quickly roll over to see who was bothering me. Every time this happened, not only would no-one would be there, but the lights would be off. And every time I would be startled by the fact that I know I saw the bright light, but suddenly I would be engulfed in the usual night-time darkness. This type of incident has occurred in my childhood home and every place I’ve lived since. It isn’t as frequent as it used to be, but it still happens.
3) When I was younger I would have little medical issues… pains, marks, etc., that doctors would have no idea what they were. They’d make mention of it. “Did you notice this mark here?” I’d say, yeah, I’ve seen it. They’d shrug and that would be the end of it. Sometimes, I’d have a few symptoms and they’d give me medicine to fix the problem, but they would have no idea how it occurred or why it did. In fact, I’ve had strange issues happen all my life and every time the doctors are stumped. A few years ago, in fact, I hurt my right side upper back/shoulder and not only was the pain incredible and nothing would make it go away, but my right pectoral muscle disappeared almost overnight. The docs were stumped. No one ever solved the mystery and although my pec is back to normal, I have residual pains in that area and still wonder what exactly happened to me.
4) When I lived in my very first apartment with a high school friend, I woke up one morning to find the power had gone out during the night. When I came home that evening, my roommate asked if I had made it to work in time. I said, yes and asked if she had. She said, “I was awake when the power went out.” I said, “really?” Her response was, “Yeah. There was a blue light outside the window and then the power went out.” Now, you have to understand that we lived on the fifth floor of an apartment complex. She thought it was a police car flashing its light on the building, to which I reminded her that a police light would have been white, not blue. There was nothing outside our apartment that could actually glow either, so for a blue light to be shining out our windows was highly unusual and for the power to go out as it happened? Come on now.
Other than that, I occasionally I feel like I’m being watched and sometimes feel a presence in my bedroom, but are those my little alien friends or am I just being dramatic? (I just heard every one of you reading this say to yourselves, “He’s being dramatic!”) I only hope that if I’ve really been taken by little green men that they’ve been kind to me. Hopefully I don’t have alien children running around on some ship somewhere, unless it’s like the Battlestar Galactica, and then, my dear readers, I’m taking off and going with them.
My last wish is that the reality of my abductions isn’t like Brian Lackey’s experience from Mysterious Skin. Because that is something truly horrifying and something no child should have to experience. And if your curiosity is whetted now, go buy Scott Heim’s book. It’s a quick read and incredibly compelling and affecting. If you’re in Los Angeles, go see the show. It’s worth the ticket.
And if anyone wants to do regression therapy on me to see if I’ve been taken over the years, I volunteer. But if the results are anything like that Milla Jovovich movie “The Fourth Kind” forget it. Cuz’ that s**t was freaky!!!