Local playwright Elizabeth A. M. Keel understands the title of her new play, Gambrels of the Sky,
is a little confusing. “Gambrels is not a word that a lot of people down here know,” the University of Houston alum admits. “But [a “gambrel”] is a pointy little roof that snow will fly off. It’s more common up north.”
But the title, much like the rest of the script, has been rattling around Keel’s mind for more than a few years. “This is the second play I ever wrote, and it’s spent plenty of time in a drawer,” the writer says. “It’s probably the play I’ve played with the most [in rewrites]. Every couple years, I pick it up just to futz with it — moving scenes, change this, redo that and then put it away. I’ve lived with it so long that I’m hyper-sensitive to [actors’] paraphrasing lines.” The playwright, who recently published her second novel, titled Life After Myth, said the current incarnation of Gambrels has changed drastically since her first draft. “This one has grown and grown…[There’s] maybe only about 30 percent of the play that’s remained the same [from the beginning].”
Keel says the play — loosely based on the story of Eve’s fateful brush with the tree of knowledge — deals the ramifications of that vast understanding. “Eve has an awareness of the multiverse theory, and she knows how to travel between worlds. She’s doing so because God kicked her out [of Eden] and — these specific words are in most translations — that [Eve] was branded a ‘fugitive and a vagabond.’ So she wanders across time and space, in search for a new home.”
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When the play starts, Eve, played by actress Cheramie Hopper (Crossing Darkness), has settled in
with a gang of street girls, played by Cindy Lou Parker and Shelby Blocker (Main Street’s Love and Information). As Keel describes it, “[these girls'] city is straddling between two dimensions where a portal has blown. So it looks like downtown Houston, but there are mythic creatures about: dragons in the sky, fairies in the street lamps, trolls under the bridges. It’s a city that magic has conquered.”
The biblical nature of the play is no coincidence, Keel says, since the origins of this original tale date back to Keel’s youth. “Years ago in Catholic school, the nuns taught me about Adam and Eve, who had three sons: Cain, Abel and Seth. [When] Abel died, who do Cain and Seth marry? And the nuns told me, ‘Oh, well there were other people there...’ – which confused me,” the writer recounts. “So they [attempted to] explain, before just saying, ‘Go pray, go pray.’”
Despite its long gestation period, Gambrels finally emerged after a last-minute workshopping in New York, where it was performed in the basement of the Dramatist Guild’s bookshop. (Keel: “I found out Christmas [morning] that they wanted to produce it now. I hopped on a plane and didn’t sleep for 36 hours. It was amazing.”) With this fully staged revival, the writer credits The Landing Theatre Company for “their bold choices in what they deliver to Houston audiences,” as well as Gambrels director Leighza Walker for landing the play in the company’s hands “[Walker] has loved this play for years. We were about to do it solo when Landing came to her, saying, 'We need to fill a slot in our season.' It was a perfect alignment of the planets.”
Performances are scheduled for August 7-20 at 3 p.m. Sunday.s, and 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays at Landing Theatre, 1119 Providence. For information, call 562-502-7469 or visit landingtheatre.org. $10 to $100.