For the past several years, Brooklyn resident Yehuda Hyman has been developing The Mar Vista, a five-part narrative of his working-class family’s history before and during his childhood on L.A.’s West Side. What he’s calling the “binge-watch edition” — the first time the whole piece takes the stage at one time — begins a three-week run at the Theater at the 14th Street Y (344 East 14th Street, 646-395-4310, 14streety.org) on December 1.
In collaboration with his Mystical Feet Company (Ron Kagan, Dwight Kelly, Amanda Schussel, Ryan Pater, and Ezra Lowrey), Hyman brings to life a wartime romance, a grand sartorial gesture that cements a probably misguided marriage, Hyman’s quest to understand his mother’s lost love, and his own efforts to find himself as a gay Jewish child in what often felt like hostile territory. Hyman weaves the episodic work together with intensely physical storytelling, flinging his compact form about like a genie loosed from a magic lamp. Laced with music and dancing, the two-hour piece transports you across continents and a century to a deep, lyrical understanding of the making of an artist.
Born in Los Angeles in the 1950s to immigrant parents from Poland and Russia, Hyman became a ballet-obsessed teenager at Santa Monica High School, studying on scholarship at the Beverly Hills studio of Tatiana Riabouchinska (one of George Balanchine’s “baby ballerinas,” who danced with the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo). There, he says, “I was excited to clean up Juliet Prowse’s poodle piddle, and to be around legends like Cyd Charisse, Ray Bolger, Leslie Caron, and Anton Dolin.”
A stint in an ill-fated musical version of Gone With the Wind got Hyman his Equity card. He later performed with Lee Theodore’s American Dance Machine and bounced from coast to coast in an effort to find just the right medium for the tales bottled up inside him. Paul Sills, a Second City founder who developed the idea of story theater — a technique that improvises plays from myths and folk tales — was a powerful influence, Hyman says, introducing him to “the idea that you could create an entire world and tell a story just using your body. I started creating narrative solo pieces using text and movement. I ran away to San Francisco, completely stopped dancing, did fifteen years of temping, and wrote plays. I didn’t actually think I would ever move or dance again. I wanted to be a really good playwright.” His work has since been produced across the country, and he’s performed with some of New York’s leading avant-garde theatermakers, including David Herskovits and Mac Wellman.
Hyman started making The Mar Vista in 2000, at the Millay Colony in Sullivan County, later returning to New York — “the only place I ever wanted to be” — to earn his MFA in dance at Sarah Lawrence, where he began developing the piece, originally a solo, for a group of students. “[The Sarah Lawrence faculty] really wanted me to be able to show, explain, pass on what I was doing to other young bodies,” he says. Some of those bodies will now perform in the finished work, starting next month.