All 100 Fires: Experimental Theater by Theater Maestra Donna Oblongata

by Ned Hayes

Olympia has professional theater, amateur theater, family theater and community theater. Yet we are often bereft of truly experimental genre-busting theatrical adventures. In late July, on one night only, writer/performer/puppeteer and underground wandering clown-minstrel Donna Oblongata will grace Olympia with her presence and fill your need for an experimental journey to the other side of theater.

Oblongata is a quirky puppeteer and master of movement and impressionistic work whose shows are often hard to find – Instead of publicity, you’ll often hear a whispered rumor of a show or an odd event or even a weird sculptural / theatrical alchemy that is like nothing else you’ve experienced. Her work has been described as “rambling, whimsical … priceless happenings” and as “gorgeous, poetic, funny, moving.”

In Olympia, she’s performing a new show – All 100 Fires – at the Evergreen Recital Hall. All 100 Fires is a solo show, yet the personas it showcases are legion, ranging from Ted Kaczynski and Jim Jones to equally disturbing snippets from the lives of Che Guevara and John James Audubon. The audience is recruited by these rigidly masculine personas to somehow be trained in survivalism.

Oblongata is interested in artistic collage, so she brings together contrasting elements in one great theatrical tapestry, pulling together disparate threads from such varied material as the life of an insurgent fighter, the history of starlings in Shakespeare, her brother’s eyeballs (in a box), how Guevara’s comrades died in the mountains and what it may mean to have won a war, yet lost a victory. Oh, and there are bird puppets.

Oblongata has a rich theater history on which to draw. She’s studied with two Pochinko clown master teachers including John Turner of Mump and Smoot fame. Her work with theater collectives Wham City and Missoula Oblongata was covered by Rolling Stone. She’s been the recipient of multiple grants and holds a master of fine arts degree in theater arts. She’s led performance workshops at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, over 20 other places around the country and at our own The Evergreen State College. She’s a theatrical dynamo.

Jeff Grygny, lead theater writer for Play On Milwaukee, describes the new All 100 Fires show as being “in tune with this peculiarly fraught moment in American culture,” featuring “a darker, less whimsical mood than some of her previous work. But these things don’t keep it from being inventive, brimming with compassion, and monstrously funny.”


All 100 Fires


Evergreen Recital Hall, The Evergreen State College


8 p.m. Sunday, July 28


Free (donations encouraged)


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