Caravan of carnage: W’burg play offers bloody, trippy take on the Donner Party

Caravan of carnage: W’burg play offers bloody, trippy take on the Donner Party
Jonathan Shaw

This play will stick to your ribs.

Beginning April 12, a theater company known for its brutal plays will present “The Tower” at Williamsburg’s Standard ToyKraft, offering a surrealist look at the travails of the Donner Party. And the play won’t just be about cannibalism, the writer promised.

“The whole play is not about eating people in gory ways,” said playwright Adam Scott Mazer of the AntiMatter Collective, which has previously staged a zombie Western and a post-apocalyptic horror story about robots. “It is more about the things that are going on in people’s minds and the building tension and desperation that causes people to act this way. I thought it would be good fodder for drama.”

The play depicts the doomed voyage of a group of American pioneers who left their homes in 1846 with the intention of settling in California. The party, traveling in a caravan of wagons, encountered harsh conditions along the way and eventually resorted to eating members of the group to stay alive.

In the process of putting the production together, Mazer, director Philip Gates, and co-creator Maya Rook spent months researching the history of the Donner Party — even traveling to the Donner Pass and Donner Lake in California to talk with historians.

Each section of the play is designed after a different tarot card, explained Gates. The play’s title is named for the tower card, which represents chaos, because that is the overall theme of the piece.

“Everything needs to come down so that something new can take place,” he said.

The play has a decidedly psychedelic bent, with time moving both backwards and forwards, and some scenes representing fantastical events happening in the characters’ minds.

“I knew it should not be a completely realistic play,” said Mazer. “Watching people slowly freeze to death is not very compelling.”

But one element that will be realistic in the play will be the plethora of cannibalism, Gates said. To make those scenes appropriately gruesome, the production brought in Stephanie Cox-Williams, who is well known in the film and theater worlds for creating top-notch gore.

“We wanted to make it as realistic as possible,” said Gates. “There are prosthetics and blood capsules and, of course, food.”

“The Tower” at Standard ToyKraft (722 Metropolitan Ave., third floor, between Manhattan and Graham avenues in Williamsburg, www.standardtoykraft.org). April 12–26 at 8 pm. $15.

Reach reporter Danielle Furfaro at [email protected] or by calling (718) 260-2511. Follow her at twitter.com/DanielleFurfaro.

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