Dreaming in Color, a swift inspiring new musical, is having a far too short run at the Promenade Theatre in Santa Monica. Santa Monica used to be a quiet town you passed by on the way to the beach. Like a character in a show, "You got to take a look at me now!" For just as most of America (except Congress), the face of Santa Monica has changed. The visit to this promenade becomes part of the show, which begins this way: Brenna, a sixteen-year-old who knows for sure her art is her life, is playing a song about how she never dreams in color. In this latest production directed by Greg Shane, Brenna, played by Caitlin Hernandez who wrote this play and its music, doesn't look much older than sixteen. She has an adorable figure, and eager, engaged expressions. She is a snarky teenager. She's difficult. Has attitude. Yeah, she's got a great voice; magic on the keyboard. We love the song. But she's willful. She's even cranky with her adoring Dad (played with tender strength by Bryan Caldwell). In the beginning you're not so sure you'll be crazy about Brenna.
Hang on. Suddenly: tragedy hits. As Brenna copes, we learn things we never dreamed we'd want to know. And now you love Brenna; want to have her around; singing her songs to you forever.
The first astonishing thing about Caitlin Hernandez is the range of her artistic talent - as a playwright, composer, actor, and writer. A generous spirit, she not only creates her own work, but also mentors students with disabilities. Caitlin shows great bravado by writing her character's opening scenes with such edge. Then there's her vitality. The charm. Perky agility.
And, oh, yes.
By the way, the Promenade Playhouse was not easy to find in the merry crowd of people in wild wonderful clothes; arms and shoulders tattooed or bangled with color, guys fresh from Shabbat services with top hats or yarmulkes; every race, all our genders, ages, spirits, expressions, various degrees of artistry and attitude were on Third Street for an evening of exploration, surprise and adventure. I saw food stands and cafes, blazing with signs all bright, with rows of flavors of scoops and shish kabobs, salads and seasons of sweets and savouries.
After leaving this theatre I will never describe this walk in the same way.
Caitlin, the star, was blind at birth. She has been discovered for us by Greg Shane, director of CRE Outreach, the force behind the Theatre by the Blind as well as several other vanguard non-profit outfits providing new trails to creative expression for a wide range of at-risk kids, veterans and challenged people who have given up hope. The play's impact, the power and significance comes from the awareness, the raw comments the star makes which hit us with their truth; the truth of a smart, wily creative kid who knows she's an artist. She's scared she'll never draw again. Subtly, through the wisdom of the play and her witty, tough mentor - the coach "Bird," she calls herself, who teaches Brenna to live with being blind.
She tells her Mom, "The girl you knew has been replaced."
"Just hold on. That girl's not gone." Mom's being sweet.
"Mom, we're not in Kansas anymore; we're on Mars."
The drawing matters; but she's also a young girl; "Do I look okay?"
"You're just as beautiful," Mom says.
"I don't believe you. There are two things wrong with me." She points to her eyes.
She does draw a picture. Her mom says, "It's good."
"Is it good or just 'blind good'?"
The spirit of Dreaming in Color charges forward with the arrival of "Bird," the funny forceful generous guide (played with wonderful generous energy and wit by Laurel Rankel), who helps Brenna find new trails, new resources for Brenna's talents. Then, as Brenna wrestles with Bird; beginning to reconsider her life, her potential, the play becomes a classic; we love stories of people who take disaster and show us exactly how courage, drive and spunk provide hope, answers and a new life. Brenna reaches out (grim at first), then accepting "Bird's" advice (roller skating, for example!); you love her more, and suddenly we're laughing and cheering. We come out of the theatre determined not to just "see" everything but to catch everything else which places us in what we call life.
After watching Dreaming in Color, I walked out into this astonishing Santa Monica Promenade, I heard the sounds of a jazzy sax; the applause of cymbals, an accordion, the beat of drums: a kid keeps that beat with chopsticks. All the different musical instruments, the astonishing variety of languages (French, - really - Hebrew, Farsi, Spanish, Japanese, and ones I could not place). I heard the clomp of hooves (or were they platform heels?), the flip flop of sandals, the whizz of wheels (like Brenna's roller skates); the clatter of long earrings and rows of bangles, whispers of skirts and saris, the giggles, slugs back of smoothies. And, then the smells of musk, citrus shaving lotion, incense, and barbecues, a banana cream pie, (true) pizza and mandarin soda, peppermint tea, and, yes, a chocolate Espresso latte. And the sound of a woman's "hush, hush" soft whisper as she reaches down, and you do hear the lift as she pulls the baby out of the stroller.
It's so easy to claim our entire experience as one of sight. How remarkable to feel, to hear and witness a story by a girl who learned all of this so young, who could, with such conviction turn to us, speaking with words composed on her Braille keyboard (which she reads far faster than my granddaughter can text). As Caitlin tells us through Brenna, "Being creative comes from your heart, your spirit and your soul. The eyes inside me see beyond my fingertips." This, of course, is the wonder which Caitlin, in her brilliance, teaches us in Dreaming in Color.