Dylan Jones' original fantasy storytelling imagines a high-stakes game of demonic cat and mouse.
Dylan Jones' “Blade and Bow” tells an old, old story: Demon meets girl, demon loses girl, demon gets girl.
Come to think of it, it’s not an old, old story. And that’s what’s good about it.
The tale unfolds in an unstaged reading at The Starlite Lounge. In other words, the two actors sit on chairs and read their lines. Imagination has to supply the set design and the action onstage. Jan Wallace (reading Jones’ evocative stage directions) gives your imagination plenty to chew on.
The time is an unspecified post-apocalyptic future. A 16-year-old girl (Ashley Figlow) wanders in from her repressive compound. She stumbles inside a cave and finds a relic from the pre-apocalyptic past — a demon (Dylan Jones) trapped in a magic circle. She’s repelled but fascinated. The demon summons up his rusty social skills. It’s the first human (or inhuman) contact he’s had in centuries. He’s anxious to keep up the conversation — and maybe looking for a patsy.
The demon cajoles the girl into trading life stories. We find out about the religious leader who keeps unruly teens in line back home. The demon then relates his bad luck with human friendships in the past. The villagers crucified the last mortal who approached him; he slaughtered every last man, woman and child and laid the earth to waste in revenge. In a fit of self-hating honesty, the demon tells the girl the only way out of his magical prison is a prisoner exchange. Bad idea, he says. He’d surely rip her to shreds and get on with the unfinished task of wiping out humanity. She doesn’t believe him — or believe there’s no way out, either. Oddly enough, the girl has faith in a demon, and equal faith in her own cleverness to outwit the double-bind dilemma.
It’s a mystical cat-and-mouse game, and a high-stakes one at that. Jones and Figlow bring this to life with solid readings — and no chewing of the imaginary stalactites. Fantastic or not, the play is basically a character study. The mind of a trapped soul. And the mind of another soul who might hold the key.
Great spoken-word performances, and they flow out of a great script. With fantasy, great writing is rare.
There’s an assumption that fantasy writing is a no-brainer. Any airhead can write about devils, dragons, trolls and the like. Many airheads do — and write badly. Good fantasy writing is tough. It’s a question of flipping familiar fantasy icons on their heads — demons, in this case. Once upon a time, Roger Zelazny and Fritz Leiber did it right. Jones’ work stands in that tradition.
Good fantasy also needs a self-consistent logic. Your world, as weird as it is, should have certain rules and history. The writer should know all that. That doesn’t mean they have to spell it all out.
So, Jones hits you with unanswered questions: What exactly is a “demon” anyway? Who put him in the charmed circle? What happened to the planet? What is the fire sickness?
Answers would make it all prosaic — as the example of George Lucas reminds us. (“You know what’s behind this mystical Force? These tiny little psychic bacteria called midichlorians, that’s what.”) No, George. Mystery doesn’t need a decoder ring. That’s the surest way to kill it. Here, the mystery is alive and well.
The characters are, too. Clever concepts are a dime a dozen. Well-written characters aren’t — human or not.
So what next?
Critics usually deal with plays as a fait accompli. Here, the playwright’s still in the kitchen, tinkering with the recipe. Jones asked for audience input at the opening. I saved mine for this review. My advice?
Don’t make the girl too quick to trust the demon in the beginning. Highlight her approach-avoid conflict. She should be ready to run at any second. After that, get into the dueling stories quicker. And speed up the pacing in the second half.
“Get the timing right” is easy to say, hard to do.
Timing is the demon that rides all writers. If it’s a play, you can only find out by trusting your darling to an audience. Jones trusted his embryonic creation to the folks at the Starlite Lounge. Their feedback will shape the next draft. He plans to present another reading later this summer — if possible.
In the meantime, when new work is read or staged, get in the habit of showing up. A play is just a script until it’s performed. It takes an audience to make the magic happen.