By Austin Kaiser
“St. Kilda,” now playing at Torn Page, a performing space in a brownstone on West 22nd Street in Manhattan, is about a girl who travels to Scotland after her grandmother dies and leaves her a mysterious map. When we meet the main character on an airplane to Scotland, she seems freaked out. There are howling winds circling the airplane wings and curling around the ankles of the passengers in the aisles.
To create this atmosphere, Jody Christopherson uses two microphones, a nightstand covered with random items like a Frisbee, a salt shaker, and a violin bow, and a loop pedal that records and loops audio from the microphones. She scrapes her fingernails across the top of a microphone to create a prickly sound that is distorted by the looper. It comes out deeper and echoing. With her foot on a pedal controlling the device, Ms. Christopherson layers the sound. She takes a wet sponge and squeezes it in front of a microphone. That sound is added to the mix. In a few moments, she creates an eerie sonic atmosphere in front of us.
When Jody lands in Scotland, she convinces a boat owner she meets at a bar to take her to St. Kilda, an island off the coast of Scotland. He’s hesitant: the island is uninhabited and far away, but Jody turns on the charm. She makes oohs and ahh into the microphone. After a few moments of heavy breathing, I am struck by how powerful this show format is. Ms. Christopherson created intimacy and psychological tension by running a violin bow across a microphone. When Jody lets down her thick, shiny red hair, the sailor agrees to take her to the island.
On the island, the sailor notices for the first time that Jody has a devil’s mark, a birthmark that signifies something ghastly. We learn that the island of St. Kilda is shaped like a woman, and that people once lived on it but were for some reason evacuated. Jody and the sailor walk upland towards the Lover’s Stone, a land feature ten times taller than the Empire State Building. At the top, the two hear the wind, which sounds like the ghostly voice of a girl. The sailor gets suspicious and asks, “Where was your grandmother from? Are you sure she was from where you say she was?” Jody, guided by the mysterious sounds, jumps off the cliff. She lands on a rock slab, breaking her leg. The sailor tries to help her but she bites him, sending him into confusion, and then crawl‑walks to her bag, in which she carried poisonous pills. She puts the poison in the sailor’s water bottle and limps back towards the boat.
She realizes she doesn’t have the ignition key for the boat, but notices a small, circular graveyard in the distance. This is the burial ground the island’s former inhabitants used for four thousand years. She takes her grandmother’s ashes and spreads them in the graveyard. To simulate this on stage, Ms. Christopherson takes a pie tin full of salt and blows it into the microphone. The sound makes me feel as if ashes flew through the air and caught in the corners of my eyes. When the ash falls to the ground, the grass separates and the soil underneath splits. The injured Jody tumbles into the crevice. The lights go out in the theatre and the howling wind is the only thing left to feel.
Ms. Christopherson’s disembodied voice tells us about the Druids, a magical and religious Scottish class. They created fictional stories to lead people away from truth and towards wild chases that led nowhere. When the lights come back on, Ms. Christopherson wears devil’s horns. Mysterious details like the Lover’s Stone, the woman‑shaped island, and the devil’s mark will remain mysterious. The show’s atmosphere and sensations are thrilling, even when its plot is murky and impressionistic. I give this show the best compliment I can think of by saying, “Give me more.”
Written and Performed by Jody Christopherson
December 19, 2018 at 8pm, January 5, 2019 at 8:30pm, January 6, 2019 at 3:30pm
Photo by Michael Niederman, courtesy of the production
435 W. 22nd Street
New York, NY
AUSTIN KAISER, currently writing a book called, “100 Questions Every Artist Should Have The Answers To.” His other book, “How To Go Viral & Put Wings On Ideas: A Book For Content Creators & Young Artists,” explains how ideas travel and which ideas travel best. More at www.medium.com/@KaiserMane.