Christopher Bernard reviews Ava/Ada at Zellerbach Hall



A review by Christopher Bernard



Manual Cinema

Zellerbach Playhouse

March 16–18, 2018


Manual Cinema performs Ada/Ava Friday–Sunday, March 16–18, 2018 in the Zellerbach Playhouse. (Photo credit: Yi Zhao)

Manual Cinema performs Ada/Ava Friday–Sunday, March 16–18, 2018 in the Zellerbach Playhouse. (Photo credit: Yi Zhao)



Chicago’s audacious theater company Manual Cinema has brought its hour of magic to Berkeley just past the ides of March this year, and if you have a theatrical bone in your body, you owe it to yourself to hie thee thither posthaste ere its pixie dust evaporates away into the memories of its enthusiasts.

The form Manual Cinema has created is as simple as it is imaginative: a hybrid of simple animation, Balinese shadow puppet play and live performance (including sound effects and music), using two screens and four overhead projectors, much like those many of us have all suffered through in high school classrooms and musty lecture halls, but with imagination and heart attached, like the balloon that haunts the show throughout.

The live performances make each performance unique and provide the same tension one feels watching a high-wire act: of course they won’t fall, but what if they do?

The story is of an admirable simplicity and originality: two ageing sisters, Ada and Ava—identical twins, as an array of old-fashioned oval-framed silhouettes adorning the walls of their home let us know in no uncertain terms—keep a lighthouse on a stormy coast, and one of them dies (no spoiler here, as the death occurs in the very opening).

The remaining sister has not only lost her oldest and closest companion, but in a sense has also lost her other self, and the rest of the story is what happens to her in her long journey to try to rejoin her sister, through memories of their growing up together, dream and nightmare, an unfinished chess game, and the haunting presence of a tall pier mirror that taunts the surviving sister with the image of her dead twin, which is, of course, her own.

We are told the story in a series of acetate and paper projections, thrown against a small screen at the back of the stage, as the performers work the models in full view of the audience onstage, with their backs to us.

The performers portraying the two sisters act out their scenes in front of that first screen. The shadows on the screen are then thrown onto a considerably larger one hanging high above the stage, and in mirror-reverse from the action seen on the first. That second screen, combining the projected images into one commanding image is what rivets the audience’s attention from first to last, though one can, at any moment, glance down to watch the “kitchen” where the febrile stew is being concocted.

The strongly convincing performers included Vanessa Valliere as Ada and Kara Davidson as Ava, as well as puppeteers Dru Dir (who directed and first explored the ideas that eventuated in the show), Sam Deutsch and Charlotte Long. The musicians, whose music subtly shaped the show’s emotional cast, were Michael Hilger, Kyle Verger and Quinn Tsan, who also performed the colorful and clever sound effects.

One thing about the names: one might be forgiven for thinking of the heroine of Vladimir Nabokov’s longest novel for “Ada,” or Ava Gardner for her twin. One might also think of “avian” for Ava, as in at least one scene, a bird appears above Ava’s grave. And of course, there are only two letters to add or change to go from either Ava or Ada to “alma,” the soul.

The show’s only weakness is its conclusion, where the authors are clearly unable to figure out how to end their story. The story’s logic sternly leads in one direction only, but they can’t quite muster the courage to go there, and so equivocate, sweetly enough if not entirely convincingly. But forgivably.

To say too much would be to spoil a show of such fine delicacy of spirit and subtle strength. Leave it at this: stormy nights and threatening seas, beautiful dreams and fearful nightmares, gaiety and deviltry, mischievous teapots and nagging clocks (one of them advertising the “Menaechmi Bros.”—from the Roman Plautus’s comedy about twins), fights between the sisters and a near drowning, a visit to a carnival and a visit to the regions of death, chess games and halls of mirrors, a lost balloon and a forever kept shell, skeletons and graveyards and spiral staircases, and the looming light of the lighthouse, twisting like an owl’s eye and forever threatening to go out for good, and the mystery of who one is, and the mystery of death, and the mystery of reconciling ourselves to the mysteries of life.



Christopher Bernard is co-editor of the webzine Caveat Lector. His novel Voyage to a Phantom City came out in 2016; his second collection of poetry, Chien Lunatique, came out in 2017. His new novel (currently being serialized in Synchronized Chaos) will appear later this year.



Synchronized Chaos March 2018: There and Back Again



Welcome to March 2018’s issue of Synchronized Chaos! In the tradition of Tolkien’s hobbits, we are reflecting upon journeys, heading ‘out there,’ observing and contemplating, then coming back again.

Patxi Perier contributes a photo essay cataloging various Basque deities and statuary that represents them, and Michael Onofrey shares an excerpt from his upcoming novel Bewilderment where travelers on bicycles first hear, then see, women in colorful saris working hard to beat rocks down to the correct size for construction. Michael Brownstein’s poetry provides glimpses of colorful landscapes, lush with food and color – but also a treacherous volcanic eruption. Joan Beebe evokes the majesty of a thunderstorm while John Chisoba Vincent creates a landscape of grief, poverty and violence set within Nigeria’s inner cities. Michael Robinson also shows the violence of African-American inner city life, yet illustrates his survival through the grace he found from the love of those, especially women, who gave him comfort.

Some pieces reflect states of being, slices of life, more so than actual physical places. Ryan Quinn Flanagan sent us vignettes with a bit of dry humor, into which he inserts the names of famous historical artists. Elizabeth Hughes, in her monthly Book Periscope column, reviews poet Linda Mangram’s title Poems for All Occasions, a collection of gentle, uplifting pieces, along with a dramatic horror piece, A Night’s Tale, by the author known as Coulter. And Michael Lee Johnson contributes quirky observations on life – character sketches of people and a horsefly who’s made his way into his room – through a variety of media.



Cattail Jester’s poetry deals with getting lost and finding one’s destination, while Mahbub probes the unseen frontier: near death experiences, as-yet-uncolonized Mars, the home of a nearby hen. Sravani reflects upon familial love, grief, and recovery, while Mary Burford laments the loss of trees cut for lumber. Jeff Bagato also describes reconnecting with nature in a tough-minded way, with the help of a few pirates who also uncover the wildness within our own natures.

Some writers work to intellectually make sense of life’s journeys. Chimezie Ihekuna, known as Mr. Ben in his homeland of Nigeria, compares the spread of ideas throughout societies to the motion predicted by Newton’s physical laws. Christopher Bernard provides a fresh installment of his serialized novella Amor I Kaos, which explores our human tendencies both towards connection, represented by romantic love, and towards isolating philosophical uncertainty.

Some authors probe the inherent tensions in our life’s travels and travails. Chimezie Ihekuna contributes poetry about our inertia as individuals and as a group, and the difficulty of changing ourselves, much less others. J.J. Campbell’s poems reveal his speakers’ cynicism, full of dark humor and religious doubt. J.D. DeHart offers up only one, tenuous piece on struggling with writers’ block and rejection, yet the poem gives us an unexpected creative twist at the end. Others find hope despite the confusion of our existence as well. Vijay Nair reviews Chimezie Ihekuna’s works in many genres, taking away that Chimezie believes that while we will experience hardship and failure, our lives are worth living anyway. J.D. DeHart also reviews Chimezie Ihekuna’s novella Santa in Two Worlds, and celebrates the poetic language and turns of phrase in this tale of crime, gang violence, and redemption.



Poetry from Mary Burford


Long lay the shadows
Beneath the greatest trees
Until a woodsman laid them low.
And oh, the years they had felt the sleet,
The bitter cold and the summers’ heat,
Had sheltered fowl, and man, and beast
Until the woodsman’s fatal blow!

Then, the earth reached out
and seemed to cry,
“Cover here, and hide the wounds
of the once great trees
That were sadly doomed.”
The rains fell, and the river flowed.
But oh, the years that it took to grow
The great green trees the axe laid low.

The birds, the wind, then did sow
Tiny seeds of other trees.
The rains fell, and the river flowed.
The sun shone, and the moon glowed.
But oh, the years that it takes to grow
More great trees for an axeman’s blow!


Poetry from Michael Brownstein

After we landed
Montserrat floated into the sky
Mountain chicken, goat water,
Black sand lines on the beach:
Look, I shouted, the volcano
Throws more smoke into the air
Coloring the trade winds grayish gray.
She answered, dust masks, oxygen masks,
Quick, buy me something to keep
The dust out of my hair.
Everywhere goats and sheep,
Lemons and lime, a great number of potatoes,
And once a week a boat rose to the occasion
From the Dominican Republic
Full of fresh fish and more fresh fish.
When the volcano erupted one night,
We went to the veranda to listen
To the march of debris.
Morning, everything covered with ash:
Look, she shouted, this stuff is everywhere.
It’s on the chairs and the floor,
In the kitchen sink.
I answered, brooms and dustpans,
Mops and water. Where are the rags?
We left a week later, our gums bleeding,
A lack of vitamin C,
A lack of calcium, a lack of .
Temperament of temperature.

Continue reading

Poetry from John Chisoba Vincent

I am learning  how to leave
how to hug many lonely roads
walk through the roads in pains
how to mourn those lost brothers
without feeling guilty-wandering
this is what life has taught me:
how to pack my bag and walk,
walk to the river bank and stay
I’ve been forgotten in between
fingers, two unequal fingers
i know I am a street shattered,
littered with  filth agonies.
finding home in a graveyard
finding solace in the bosom of
emptiness and foliage of vacant
lonesomeness taught me this:
how to name the street a home
how to hold death in my pocket
how to talk to the wind as a friend
building sadness and excitement
when a dice of stupidity is thrown
fools like me look for gold of sanity
these broken poems in my head
hurts, wish I could split them like
Igbos’ hearts, like Edo and Delta!
the history created has made me
learn more on how to lose home
in every moon, in every star
but am afraid of what the streets
talk about me in their closet.

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JD DeHart reviews Chimezie Ihekuna’s upcoming novel Santa in Two Worlds

A Note on Santa In Two Worlds by Mr. Ben (aka Chimezie Ihekuna)

written by JD DeHart, author of poetry anthology The Truth about Snails

JD DeHart

JD DeHart

As you may tell from the synopsis below (provided by the author), this is a strong story of crime.  It is interesting to read a poet who writes prose and poetry, and what I noted here about that transition is the way the story breathlessly uses descriptive phrases to convey its meaning.

There is much creativity at work here.  There is crime, certainly, and violence, of course…but there is also a nice sense of silver lining to the book.






Chimezie Ihekuna

Chimezie Ihekuna


Santa’s world was in shambles. Just released from prison, having spent over a year, he was always the talk of the entire Santiago town. His long criminal records of stealing and drug-trafficking were reasons the 22-year-plus-old-man was always on the lips of every Santiagoan. Santa walked the length and breadth of the town in confidence but asked himself: “Why in the world are people of Santiago keeping me at arms length, whereas I don’t mean any harm, I want a change but this addictions of crime wouldn’t help matters?!”

Like the old saying: “blood is thicker than water”, Santa’s family was an epitome of crime. His father was said to have died in a gun-battle with the popularly known Men of Peace, The Santiago Police Force after an unsuccessful robbery operation, three months before Santa was born. His mom, the prostitute and drug addict, was a happy-go-lucky woman; flirting with any man she is on the streets of Santiago and beyond in exchange for drugs and money. Santa, having being raised by single-handedly, grew up to embrace crime wholeheartedly. Santa thought of turning a new leaf; change for good and for the better. He craved for a sense of belonging and acceptance by the people. Santa looked forward to when the people of Santiago would embrace him like their brother. How to go about it was very confusing… There was no he could confide in. Maria knew next to nothing! Her life was all about prostitution, drinking, smoking, despite being hospitalized at the Santiago Maternity Home.

In his ‘blur’ quest for the desired change and to avoid being ridiculed by people of the community—young and old, Santafoot-matched to the forest to the San-Amazona forest, Santiago’s most interior part to think about his life. There, he encountered a strange-looking plant but remembered what his mom would tell him about anything he saw as strange…The Tree of the gods. He chewed the leaves very well and swallowed them. Santa’s sudden weakness turned him to sleeping on the floor, under the canopy of the ever-green Tree of the gods.

Santa saw one thing he has never known—The unknown world of nature—where he saw exactly him in another world under a different situation but one thing connected them: CHANGE! Though they couldn’t get to see each other physically, both of them got what they wanted.

It was a world that would translate as: Santa in Two Worlds.