Heavens to Murgatroid, enter stage left

By Karoline Czerski

In the days when poodle skirts dominated the fashion scene and Cuban cigars freely circulated in America, Looney Toons and Hanna Barbara ventured onto the moving picture screen. The were the days when Snagglepuss bellowed “exit stage left!” and “heavens to Murgatroid!”

That was 1957, and Hanna Barbara was subsequently dwarfed by Looney Toons and Cuban cigars in America were used only on very rare occasions. Only the phrase “heavens to Murgatroid” has stuck around, though don’t ask me, or the cast and crew of One Yellow Rabbit’s new divine comedy, to tell you what Murgatroid actually means.

“I’m so embarrassed, I should probably know this,” admits Onalea Gilbertson, a recent addition to the Rabbit’s ensemble.

The phrase serves as something of a symbol for the new melding of two generations at the OYR headquarters, where there is a generation gap between those who understand the reference and those who don’t.

Gilbertson falls into the younger category, a multi-talented performer that attracted the attention of co-artistic directors Micheal Green and Denise Clarke a number of years ago. In unofficial and highly organic fashion, Gilbertson became a frequent addition to oYR shows, then a full season performer, and finally, this past year, a part of the troupe.

“They have been great influences on me,” says Gilbertson. ” Denise has been a mentor, which has now turned into a strong kind of friendship.”

Alongside recent additions David van Belle and Brad Payne, and founding members Denise Clarke and Andy Curtis, the troupe sets forth in Denise’s brave new play Heavens to Murgatroid.

The story centers around a family of modernly unholy people who, faced with death and their judgement at Heaven’s Pearly Gates, seek excuse and explanation for their less-than-perfect lives on Earth.

In a piece created and directed by Denise Clarke, the ambiance is most certainly avant-garde, physical and quirkily comical. The sinners waiting to be judged are, of course, covered only by clouds of cotton.

Gilbertson plays a spoiled, materialistic woman who finds fulfillment in stainless steel appliances and designer clothes.

“I’m trying to get under the skin of this character, and she is very shallow on one hand, but so sad and empty and quite complex on the other,” reflects Gilbertson. “You get into these characters, and you see how they react, what they would say at a cocktail party, what comes out of their mouth first.

“You sometimes start acting as your character, and you say something and then gasp ‘oh my god, I said that?’”

The Rabbits take their roles seriously, working together as a group and separately with Clarke in the choreography and character development of the play. Clarke approached her piece in an unconventional fashion, working first with individual actors and then bringing them together in their definitive characters. Clarke, a veteran dance performer, also leads the group every morning in yoga training, a ritual Gilbertson is grateful for.

“It’s a great way to get up in the morning,” notes Gilbertson, adding quietly that coffee is also part of the ritual.

Venturing into more physical and dance-orientated theatre, this new comedy stays true to the unique and multi-talented OYR ideal.

“That’s the great thing about this troupe, they’re all very talented and they’re really supportive of their diverse abilities,” explains Gilbertson.

It is no wonder that the Rabbits attract the likes of Gilbertson, who is at once an actor, concert performer and recording artist, with a voice praised across the country.

While the founding members of the ensemble may remember the days of Snagglepuss, they have stayed true to the distinct and eternally youthful motto that is One Yellow Rabbit.

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