Ada/Ava is a must-see journey into the nightmarish world of nostalgia and twisted memories

Surrounded by Shadows

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Manuel Cinema's Ada/Ava is one of the highlights of Spoleto 2016 - JULIA LYNN PHOTOGRAPHY.
  • Julia Lynn Photography.
  • Manuel Cinema's Ada/Ava is one of the highlights of Spoleto 2016
In the days and weeks after the Nov. 13, 2015 Bataclan terrorist attack, Jesse Hughes became the unlikely face of the tragedy. As the singer-guitarist for the Eagles of Death Metal, the band that had taken the stage that fateful night, Hughes was not only front and center during the attack, he was clearly the most famous. As such, everyone wanted to know his story. 

This was a strange position for the Greenville, S.C. native Hughes to find himself in — the Eagles of Death Metal are a fringe act that is best known as a side project for Queens of the Stone Age leader Josh Homme. The singer-guitarist was not exactly used to the unforgiving glare of the international spotlight. And yet, he freely spoke about the Bataclan attack, regardless of how much it pained him to do so. His interview with Vice is particularly gut-wrenching. Not surprisingly, the French people collectively embraced him as one of their own.

Eventually, the media moved on to other things, some important, many trivial. From time to time, a news agency would do a follow up story on Hughes. At first the stories, would be more or less profiles of the quirky and charismatic rock star. A hard-partying hellion who dates a one-time adult film actress, Hughes was also a devout Christian, a gun lover, and a Donald Trump supporter. Clearly, the band leader was a man of contradictions. But since then, another side of Hughes has emerged — that of a deeply troubled man whose recollections of that day seem to be transforming.

Today, Hughes believes that the Bataclan attack was an inside job and that Islam itself is a poison. He also believes that atheists and political correctness are destroying America, all while Jesus is watching and judging and waiting to punish all nonbelievers with all the fury of the evil men who opened fire on a music hall full of people on Nov. 13, 2015.

Like many others, I've wondered what happened to the man that I admired and that the French people loved — or at least they once did. The answer is quite simple: Jesse Hughes is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and it has fundamentally changed who he is, and perhaps who he can ever be. In the search for explanation, Hughes has fallen into a rabbit hole of ever-shifting, self-replicating memories, recollections that increasingly seem to be inventing moments and twisting his entire world-view, as waking life itself has transformed into a nightmare from which he can never awaken. 

Such is the world that one character enters in the compelling shadow puppet drama Ada/Ava at this year's Spoleto. 

Performed by the Chicago troupe Manuel Cinema, Ada/Ava tells the story of twin sisters who have seemingly been joined at the hip all their lives. When Ava passes, Ada is not only devastated, she rather quickly becomes the victim of her own inability to process the pain and loneliness that she feels — nor the death that she knows is sure to follow. Refusing to let her sister go, Ada begins suffering from frightful dreams and delusions. These horrific hallucinations eventually manifest themselves during a terrifying trip through a mirror maze at a traveling carnival, a carnival that is very much like one that Ada and her sister visited many, many years ago. I won't spoil Ada/Ava even further, but suffice to say, it is the rare shadow puppet show that is emotionally powerful; it's not merely an exercise in golly-gee, how did they do they that?, as so many are, Ada/Ava is a genuinely moving work, perhaps even a masterpiece. 

Make no mistake, of course, there are plenty of draw-dropping moments in this performance ... many. But as clever as they are, and as much as you will marvel at the creativity and timing of the men and women of Manuel Cinema, there is no escaping the feelings that this performance will pull from you. See it.

As for the subject of PTSD, I'm beginning to see it as one of the trends of this year's Spoleto Festival 2016. Divining the over-arching theme of an individual Spoleto is not an easy thing; in fact, the themes we see emerging before the fest begin are often not the themes that rise to the surface as one show merges into the next. Still, there is reason to believe that this one just might play a part in what comes next. 


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