Mik Kuhlman’s absorbing solo play about losing her Vashon Island home to fire runs through Monday, June 29, at Fremont’s West of Lenin.
When you enter West of Lenin to see Mik Kuhlman’s new solo show “House #30,” you are handed an object in lieu of a program — a candlestick, a kitchen implement, an empty picture frame.
The reasons for this handout come together later — as does most everything in this charming and poignant, hour-plus rumination on the broader meaning of home.
A former Seattle-area resident now residing in New York City, Kuhlman is excellent company — as a solo performer should be. A veteran of the Vashon Island-based UMO and Seattle Mime Theatre, she delivers her well-crafted memoir verbally as well as through agile, expressive movement.
Through Monday, June 29, at West of Lenin, 203 N. 36th St, Seattle; $12-$20 (206-352-1777 or westoflenin.com).
Clad in white pants and a tunic, early on Kuhlman performs within a stunning scenic structure created by textile artist Patricia Toovey. Made of framing and filmy, see-through silk, and suspended about a foot above the ground, it is a dreamlike abode where Kuhlman re-enacts receiving the call informing her that a fire has ravaged her rented Vashon Island house.
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As she rushes home to discover nearly all her possessions (and maybe her cats) have been consumed in the blaze, Kuhlman expresses in intense physical language her disbelief, shock and grief. Hearing a Red Cross worker use the word “homeless” sends chilly dread through her.
But before the spectacle of her despair can turn maudlin, Kuhlman emerges from the house of pain to tell us, engagingly and lightly, about her “nomadic” life. She chats about occupying 60-some residences in all. The island one that went up in flames in 2000 — her 30th — was special.
The century-old, Quartermaster Harbor house had character to, well, burn. Formerly inhabited by a librarian, the place boasted a library stocked with the classics. It had a big “walk-in” fireplace, original paneling, planked wooden floors and antique lighting fixtures.
There were more atmospherics, as Kuhlman became convinced the place was inhabited by ghosts. “House #30” is, in part, a vivid tale of spooky apparitions and unexplained noises, and a local ghostbuster’s attempt to quell them.
The segment is entertaining, but it also fits metaphorically into Kuhlman’s larger metaphysical theme.
Material stuff comes and goes, including things you’ve cherished and invested with meaning. Abodes change as one’s circumstances do. Let it go, Kuhlman concludes. What matters and defines your place in the world has more to do with the people you love and who love you.
This may be a platitude, but by quietly coupling it with a significant revelation from her past, Kuhlman invests it with new meaning.
“House #30” is enhanced by a cleverly attentive sound design by Michael Keck and Brendan Patrick Hogan that includes original music by Gretta Harley and others, as well as AJ Epstein’s good lighting. (If I have one design quibble, it’s that Kuhlman doesn’t make more use of that glowing-white tent-house.) Jennifer Jasper directs.
It’s also worth checking out the theater’s lobby gallery, which has an exhibit of eloquent photos of the scarred, uninhabitable Vashon house taken by Michelle Bates following the fire.
And what about those objects passed around before the show? They are symbolic, and surrendered.