Theater veteran Kallos debuts with a dazzling mosaic of intersecting lives and fates.
Lured by an unsigned postcard, possibly from her ex-lover, freewheeling Wanda Schultz travels cross-country to Seattle. A stage manager, she’s in demand anywhere there’s a show looking for a fiercely organized, sturdy person. Her quest parallels her long lost father’s: in 1969, he left six-year-old Wanda with his sister’s large family to set off in search of his runaway wife. Elsewhere in Seattle, septuagenarian Margaret Hughes has been diagnosed with a brain “astrocytoma”—a “star” tumor. She has occupied a cavernous hilltop mansion since childhood, when her wealthy father’s hobby was dealing antiques and her mother’s was genteel insanity. By 1946, her mother was the châtelaine and “sacristan” of vast rooms of fine china and porcelain that her father fenced from Nazis, who stole from the apartments of deported Jews. Except for a brief marriage that ended after her young son was killed in a car crash, Margaret has lived in seclusion all these years, dusting tchotchkes her sole preoccupation. Determined to change her habits after the diagnosis, she advertises for a boarder. Enter Wanda. Both women, shattered by abandonment and loss, reform themselves by methodically destroying the artifacts looted from others’ lives. The smashing and cracking symbolism might be too pervasive for those who hate to see the lovable Wanda broken in service to a motif. But it’s a very skillfully integrated conceit. After Wanda recovers from multiple fractures (she’s hit by a car while running after her chimera of abandoning males), she becomes a renowned mosaic artist, creating giant installations from “pique-assiette” chards of the Hughes collection. A subplot involving bowling, the lost father, and a Holocaust survivor who has a missing piece from Margaret’s hoard rounds out this multilayered rhapsody.
Kallos has a rare, deft way with whimsy, dream sequences and hallucinations. Comparisons to John Irving and Tennessee Williams would not be amiss in this show-stopping debut.