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Photograph by Dave Lepori

Ghost Host: Unearthly Jessa Brie Berkner tells a terrible tale of the sea in 'Tenders in the Fog.'

Fogged In

San Jose Stage Company goes to sea for ghostly 'Tenders in the Fog'

By Marianne Messina

TREVOR ALLEN'S Tenders in the Fog is a ghost story the way the Irish tell one, with all the banshee and ghostie trimmings. In the play's world premiere production at San Jose Stage Company, Jessa Brie Berkner, appearing from the dark, or from behind the audience, and shrouded in the black cape and hood of an Irish shanachie (costume designer, Michele Wynne), tells the tale of the Bailey men lost at sea. Father, son and grandson—all named James Bailey (and railing against the fact as if it were a bondage)—have endured remarkably similar luck with women. Each has lost the love of his life to a painful death. And as they man a crab boat during the fateful outing that will be their last, each experiences apparitions of his beloved in the waters.

The show's ample visual effects seem to split existence into two worlds: the unknown, the place of hauntings and dreams and mythical beings; and the known, the proverbial terra firma (ironically, a boat). Throughout the action, the men never leave the craft, a masted ship structure with cutaway hull set in the center of the Stage's floor space (extended for the purpose). And Berkner, who plays not only the shanachie but also a banshee and the ghosts of the women, commands this surrounding floor space.

Even the lighting (Maurice Vercoutere) and sound (Clifford Caruthers) conspire with many fun special effects to create two worlds. On the boat, the action is spotlighted in clear, bright lighting, but in the sea, dimmer lighting rolls on a sea of fog. Inside the boat, the conversation is a repeating argument around issues like abandonment. Outside, heralded by the hiss of waves, Berkner's rich contralto echoes eerily like a dream. In addition to her commanding voice, Berkner inhabits banshee and ghost alike with liberated sexuality. Wearing a kind of sea-tattered body suit, a motley of cloth windings and fishnet over bare skin, she undulates so hypnotically you can almost see the waves.

Between scenes, Caruthers' original music includes a haunting piano theme and a captivating night-sea piece that works buoy bells into the harmony. Not only does the media-enhanced power of the sea/netherworld have ghostly appeal, but since the vast darkness gets the major portion of stage area, it lends smallness and claustrophobia to the world of the boat.

While the Trinity's 75-year-old captain (Paul Myrvold) rambles amiably about sustainable fishing, his son (a cantankerous Randall King) and grandson Jimmy (Nick Sholley) argue in flurries of rapid, verbal lunge-and-parry. In subversive glee, the Stage runs with Allen's devices for portraying the Baileys as isolated men, not only from the land, their wives and each other, but also from communication and love. Each begins telling his story alone, narrating in the spotlight while the other two hold tableaux in the shadows. Or as younger father and son argue, the eldest Bailey is carrying on a monologue over and between them. Or they tell three stories in the round, line by line—without multitask processing of the story threads, a listener can end up lost at sea. But lots of hard-to-process incoming makes thrillers and ghost stories stand up to the retelling. And this ambient, one-act ghost story might best be visited once again, closer to Halloween.

Tenders in the Fog, a San Jose Stage Company production, plays Wednesday˝Thursday at 7:30pm, Friday˝Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 2pm through Oct. 16 at the Stage, 490 S. First St., San Jose. Tickets are $20˝$42. (408.283.7142)

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From the September 28-October 4, 2005 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2005 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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