Stepping into FLAX arts & design, one might not expect to stumble upon a play — but steps away, tucked into a corner, lies a fairytale waiting to be explored.
What if an infinite supply of knowledge fell into one’s fingertips? The Oakland Theater Project seeks to explore this question in their production of “Book of Sand (a fairytale),” which follows an unnamed former librarian (Kevin Rebultan) who acquires a book with an endless number of pages from a mysterious Bible seller (Carla Gallardo). Obsession ensues, and the audience is swept away with Rebultan as he sinks further and further into a reading fervor.
The play itself felt boundless; the actors performed on stage even before the audience entered the intimate room. Gallardo wrestled with a large book across the stage as Rebultan pensively ate a bowl of cereal atop a large wood block, while giving the audience a palpable sense of entering into an already turning page.
This loveable introduction to the bumbling character sparked immediate nostalgia for viewers, reminiscent of clumsy Rupert Giles from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and other absentminded professor types. With clumsy charm, Rebultan’s quiet personality collides with the bombastic Bible seller, delivering a delightful chemistry that draws the audience further into the play’s neverending story.
“Book of Sand” approached its magical elements with more mystique than clarity, though most spellbinding moments began with Rebultan opening a page and being sucked into a narrative, forced to act out the literary moment he’s stumbled upon. Rebultan’s versatility took the spotlight as he jerked and staggered his way through a montage of characters, delighting the audience with moments of shock at his own possession.
In one such moment, a page opened and Rebultan’s leg seemed to move, jerking against his will. He grabbed it, face turning in shock to the audience, and his body quickly began to out-maneuver him. The awkward former librarian quickly turned into a 1920s dancer before he slammed his hands together, closing the page and bashfully dusting himself off. Rebultan’s small moments of levity filled this story of stories with light, ensuring the packed play remained engaging for its audience.
“Book of Sand” invites its audience to step inside of a book: The ceiling was dotted with hanging books that ensured that the viewer was surrounded by infinite pages. The stage was set against two levels, with ladders and raised platforms serving as the bones on which the actors played out their story.
The result was vividly three-dimensional, with Gallardo even climbing to the top of a leaning ladder on a platform — dangling down and looking at Rebultan and the audience with glee. Gallardo’s costume reflected this same level of multi-layered intricacy. Her whimsicality was encapsulated in a tattered jacket patchworked with embroidery, pins and buttons.
Paired with the stuffy librarian, Gallardo shines as a capricious guest, constantly interjecting cynical comments while Rebulatan explores the Book of Sands. Eerily cryptic, the Bible seller’s dramatic flair is almost a physical manifestation of the magic of the Book of Sands. Each time Gallardo uttered the titular phrase, “Book of Sands,” the words reverberated throughout the venue, accented by flashing lights and her wild scream.
While “Book of Sand” certainly possesses whimsy, it often over-delivers on the fantastical through barraging its audience with information. Due to a combination of Gallardo yelling commands, Rebultan earnestly acting out monologues and an, at times, intense soundtrack, it’s often difficult for the audience to orient themselves. In addition, each of the monologues from the book are literary references from authors such as Edgar Allen Poe and Kurt Vonnegut. If one of these vibrant elements was deflated, viewers could have the space to focus on the many literary references that make up Rebultan’s book of books and the thematic contributions each adds.
Regardless of an at times garbled narrative, The Oakland Theater Project’s “Book of Sand” is a noteworthy, magical portrayal of the quest for knowledge which often only leads to obsession.