Written by Welsh poet Peter Thabit Jones, “The Fire in the Wood” explores the life and legacy of the great sculptor Edmund Kara. In both verse and prose, the characters recount the important life moments and character of this enigmatic artist, who designed wardrobe and costumes for both Universal and Paramount studios — for such greats as Lena Horne and Peggy Lee — before he retreated to his coastal studio in Big Sur, California, where he immersed himself in sculpting wood.
The story, a verse drama that opens May 9 at The Actors Studio of Newburyport, takes place after Kara’s death. In the early minutes, a surviving friend of the sculptor notes that his home studio, where his vitality flourished, is slowly decaying and sliding down the cliff into the sea. She sees it as consistent with his Zen way of life — in rhythm with nature.
In the precious days before the house is gone for good, Kara’s ghost, the main character of the play, returns to assess his life and legacy. In a way, he’s analyzing his own bones. He remembers fondly the sanctuary of the place he built for himself to create in and the sensuality of his craft — carving wood. He acknowledges the myriad forms of fertile nature that had surrounded him in life.
By his own account, Kara’s art was about self-discovery. The characters in the play — his longtime friend and Big Sur neighbor, two poets, his ghost and his younger self — contribute to a simultaneously frank-yet-poetic assessment of the life Kara led.