Sometimes, the nightmare is real — American premiere of ‘Mare Rider’ in unique setting for unique subject matter 

Published 1:12 pm Friday, October 13, 2017

The latest offering by Scarlet Cup Theater lucked into a very unique production space. “Mare Rider” will have its American premiere Thursday, Oct. 19 inside historic Jacobs Hall at Kentucky School for the deaf. The play runs through Sunday, Oct. 22, then goes up again the following Thursday-Saturday, Oct. 26-28.
And it’s the perfect space, says theater founder Liz Orndorff.
“There’s this natural creepiness around you in this old building,” she says. Only a maximum of 50 may be seated at each show, and the audience will be roughly six-feet from the stage.
“This is an incredibly fun show to do just before Halloween,” she says. Based upon an old, old legend about a mythological figure who visits women when death is near, called Elka, Orndorff says she would describe the subject matter as very visceral.
“Visceral indeed,” says the play’s director, Tony Haigh. “No one’s ever done it in America before, only in London, Germany and Sweeden.” Written by a Turkish playwright who lives in London, Haigh — originally from England — was lucky enough to catch the production in London.
“I was very impressed. It tells the story of a woman who’s lost a baby and is in a coma in a hospital.” Haigh says in her distant memory is a folktale — the female boogyman — involving a figure who comes and takes your baby away if the baby is stillborn.

(Photo contributed) “Mare Rider” director Tony Haigh and stage manager Rachel Beckman make dramatic decisions.

“So what’s happening is that in her dreams, while she’s in a coma, she’s dreaming about this mythical figure in her past. We see her interacting with the figure, although her husband and nurse can only see that she’s in a coma.”
Haigh says the subject matter surrounds women and their cultural identity, their memory and what they have to fight for in order to exist in the modern world.
“And how the world of the past catches up with them. This is a woman in her 40s who’s waited to have a child — what choices are women making in order to put off a pregnancy. That modern question, on one hand, and cultural myths on the other.”
Haigh says he would compare Elka, the mythical figure, to figures such as the Irish banshee, the German sandman or the American boogeyman.
“All these myths are really horrible, nasty figures. This figure shows up in lots of cultures in the eastern world.”
Haigh was so taken with the play when he saw it overseas, he taught it in his humanities class at Centre College last year. He’s since retired as professor of dramatic arts, which gives him more time to be involved with other productions.
“I think it’s a really powerful play. The actors are just stunning,” he says. Kristina Ives, Caitlyn Leonard, Walter Eng and Sharon Sikorski make up the cast. “Just a really seasoned group of people.”
As for the production area, Haigh agrees with Orndorff.
“It’s in the rotunda and we got 50 seats in, on three sides. So it’s very intimate. It’s exciting and makes it all very personal.”
Haigh says he’s decided a tagline for the play is “Sometimes, the nightmare is real.”
“These are real problems these people are having. The mare rider is a creature of her imagination — or is it? Is it all in her mind, or is it real? The figures that we create in our mythologies to frighten us, do they really exist? Or do they only exist in our minds. And even in our minds — do they have the power, or does the myth have the power?”

(Photo contributed) Nurse Caitlyn Leonard, from left, tends patient Kristina Ives while Elka, the Mare Rider (Sharon Sikorski) is invisible to everyone but the patient. Husband Walter Eng doesn’t understand.

As a supplement to the play, a special program at the Boyle County Library will be held 3 p.m. Sunday, with Phyllis Passariello and Haigh who will talk about “Mare Rider,” and explore the mythological backgrounds to these female trickster figures.
“That’s part of Scarlet Cup’s mission, to do education outreach and help put the play in context. It’s good to have the opportunity to talk about the subject matter when you’re doing difficult, new work, and give peopel some of the background and why they should see it.”
Also on tap for the play performances will be a special “dinner and a show” offering at Jane Barleycorn’s Market and Bar, where the restaurant will offer a fixed price meal on the regular nights of the show (not including Sunday matinee). Check back in The Advocate for more information as it becomes available.
• “Mare Rider” — Mythic Women of our Dreams will be 3 p.m. Sunday at Boyle County Public Library, by Tony Haigh and Phyllis Passariello. The talk will focus on giving others a richer understanding of the play and explore the realities of the myths and folk behind the story.
• “Mare Rider” performances will be 8 p.m. Oct. 19-21 and 3 p.m. Oct. 22, and 8 p.m. Oct. 26-28 at Jacobs Hall on Kentucky School for the Deaf’s campus. Tickets are $20 for general admission and $10 for students and can be purchased by calling the box office at (859) 319-1204 or visiting For both Thursday performances, the award-winning KSD culinary arts team will provide homemade treats for sale as a team fundraiser.

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