By Ben Gierhart
Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel “Dune” is inarguably one of the most celebrated works of science-fiction in the English language and has made a considerable impact on pop culture, even serving as an inspiration for “Star Wars.” Its accolades and adaptations are many, but for a modern audience unfamiliar with “Dune,” it can be succinctly described as “Game of Thrones” in space.
The scale is that huge, but just like the works of George R.R. Martin, the scope never sacrifices smaller moments where the story zeroes in on one or two characters. It is this characteristic of the narrative that has taken root in the minds of Jon Becraft and Amy Davis, artistic director and associate artistic director, respectively, of Louisville’s Baby Horse Theatre Group.
“I think it’s a beautiful story about a parent and a child who is coming of age in the middle of crisis, who are each battling their own issues while also trying to take care of each other,” Becraft tells Insider.
Baby Horse’s latest production is titled “Jessica and Her Son,” and the hope is that the essence of “Dune” can be captured in a way that is different than the allegory of conflict in the Middle East taught in many “serious,” academic approaches to the novel.
Structurally, “Dune” comprises the internal and external journeys of each of its characters through dialogue and by giving the reader insight into their innermost thoughts. Wisely, as both the show’s writer and director, Becraft has chosen to focus on a specific portion of the book where this rich relationship is at its most dynamic.
“The way the play is presented here, we see the internal thoughts of both Jessica and her son, Paul. They both speak to each other, but they could be doing so much better if some of the things they kept inside, they spoke out loud,” he says.
Whether it be the walls between the minds of characters or the metatheatrical walls of a production, Baby Horse is all about breaking barriers.
Despite existing since 2012, Baby Horse Theatre still is a relatively unknown group in Louisville’s crowded theater scene. A sort of hip, underground indie band of the local theater world, Baby Horse is an experimental theater group whose mission is to find what theater can become in an age where movies and television are achieving what classical theater has for centuries.
In their opinion, what can’t be duplicated by the likes of Netflix is physical interaction between performer and audience.
The projects of the company are many. Notably, Baby Horse has produced a fourth-wall smashing adaptation of John Ford’s “’Tis Pity She’s a Whore” that won the audience favorite award at the now-defunct Slant Culture Theater Festival and Louisville Championship Arm Wrestling — a performance art theater project modeled on professional wrestling that has proven so successful it has become its own entity with multiple shows a year.
Most recently, Baby Horse produced “Robothello,” an ’80s sci-fi remix of “Othello” that serves as a mélange — no pun intended — of Shakespeare, robots and multimedia sensation.
“Jessica and Her Son” will serve as a natural progression from “Robothello” and include some of its multimedia devices, but the real shot in the arm this time is the practical work of Amy Davis, who in addition to serving as associate artistic director, also is its latest show’s set and costume designer. If that weren’t enough, she’s also performing in it.
“Oh, I’m so excited,” she says, and there’s no denying it. The joy Davis elicits during the mere discussion of her work is infectious. “Lately, I’ve been using just a bunch of scraps of different kinds of fabric, and I was quilting it together for the sand dunes. And I’ve been using a similar technique just with different clothing pieces I’ve collected to make the stillsuits and costume pieces.”
Davis is someone who reserves a special part of her brain solely for her costume and set design — the “treasure hunt” part she calls it — and it never shuts off. This quality proves invaluable for a scrappy theater company funded by no one.
“It forces us to be creative and use the resources we already have in a different way,” she explains.
Attesting to the skill and artistry behind Davis’ work, Becraft adds, “What makes me so excited to work with Amy is that everything I’ve seen her make, I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Whatever the quality of the final product ends up being — all signs lead to another thought-provoking hit for Baby Horse — Becraft and Davis’ ambitions are clear.
“You always want your audience to walk away feeling something they haven’t felt or thought before. To really experience sounds and sights and thoughts and feelings you can totally wrap yourself up in is transportive,” says Becraft, before adding with a grin, “I don’t consider Baby Horse so much in the theater business as in the transportation business.”
“Jessica and Her Son” will be performed at Kaiju, 1004 E. Oak St., on Friday and Saturday, July 26-27, at 7 p.m. Admission is free with a recommended $5 donation. No word if partaking in the spice mélange is necessary at the door at this time.