Astoria actress impresses with role in ‘Garden of Delights’

The Garden of Delights cast included (l. to r.) Maria Swisher, Adam Giannone, Fernando Arrabal, Tana Sirois, Olivier Renaud.
Photo by George McClintock
By Tammy Scileppi

Surrealistic, curiously bizarre and a bit disturbing, late-medieval Dutch artist Hieronymus Bosch’s triptych entitled “The Garden of Earthly Delights” is by no means your typical Renaissance-era masterpiece. Far from it.

And neither is “Garden of Delights” — an interactive revival of Spanish playwright Fernando Arrabal’s imaginative, other-worldly theatrical interpretation of that wonder of art — a run-of-the-mill play.

Presented along with an art exhibition, “Garden of Delights” sought to mesmerize the audience last Sunday evening, as they followed the actors who brought to life dream-like scenes and dramatic vignettes that swirled across open spaces at Plaxall Gallery in Long Island City.

Capturing the metaphorical and enigmatic, sensual and tragic elements inspired by Bosch’s painting, the play told a story, while jumping in and out of reality and linear time. The characters took on different versions of themselves, creating a captivating and sometimes terrifying alternative experience.

Different interpretations of Bosch’s three-paneled work on display at Museo del Prado in Madrid, abound, but the most popular one seems to suggest that it’s all about the artist’s take on earthly life. In the center panel, strange nude figures are shown frolicking amidst giant strawberries and such, while engaging in naughty, risqué behavior. Bosch may have been thinking: There is no limit to how far humans can go when it comes to sin and debauchery. And, while he was painting Adam and Eve on the preceding panel, Bosch may have grumbled to himself: And what a shame, for the world started out so innocently in the Garden of Eden.

Then in the third panel, through dark twisted imagery, he seems to warn humanity: Wait ’til you get to Hell. You will regret all that depravity when you suffer the torments of the netherworld for all eternity.

Though Bosch died over 500 years ago, in 1516, some say the artist could have been looking toward our future world, much like Da Vinci had in his works.

Interestingly, through both creative endeavors – the old painting and the modern play – the viewer is invited into a realm that seems to resemble a psychedelic experience.

In her role as Lais, Astorian actor Tana Sirois, 27, eagerly stepped into a tempting Garden of Delights and the weird realm that Arrabal, who flew over from Paris to see the local production, had first created back in 1968. She offered her perspective on the play that she also co-produced.

“Garden of Delights follows protagonist Lais, a charming yet self-loathing actress, through a bizarre and unflinching look at her sadomasochistic experience of love and art,” Sirois explained. “Isolated in her home with only her caged beast-like partner and a flock of childish sheep to protect her from the outside world, she spirals down into painful memories and erotic fantasies that blur the line between reality and imagination.”

Lais attempts to escape her life of isolation, and loses herself in her memories.

“She finds them exaggerated and distorted, which challenges her perception of herself and questions the truth of her guilt-ridden childhood,” Sirois noted. “After traveling through time to experience the tragedies of the past, she falls into a sea of self-hatred and comes face to face with the dark parts of humanity.”

The up-and-coming actor splits her time between Astoria and Brooklyn.

“I’ve moved often my whole adult life, so I enjoy experiencing all the different areas New York City has to offer,” said Sirois, who grew up in Portsmouth, N.H., where she was “lucky enough to be heavily involved in the theater scene.”

When she was 18, she moved to Liverpool, England, to attend university at The Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts. After graduating with a BA in Acting, she lived in London for a few years, where she got the chance to be on the UK Tour of “Barefoot in the Park.”

“I’ve been back in America for four years now, and although I was heartbroken to leave the UK, I am very happy to be living in NYC,” said Sirois, who calls Queens her favorite borough.

She described her challenging and complex role in Garden of Delights as “an actor’s dream.”

“The character goes through so much in the course of this play, and since the show was not grounded in reality, there was a real allowance for dramatic shifts in intention, heightened movement, and an intensified sense of play,” Sirois noted.

And her role as co-producer has proved exciting and challenging as well.

“It’s a particularly ambitious piece, and quite design-heavy. I’m lucky to be able to put such trust in my company partner, Maria Swisher. She has a talent for finding ambitious, intelligent and exciting material, which is one of the reasons I love working with her,” Sirois said. “We have been producing theatre together for the past nine years, and we balance each other well.

“This play really falls in line with our mission at Dirt [contained] Theatre Company, which is to make provocative, socially conscious theatre. We make work that is both bold and bawdy, honest and intelligent. We strive for eloquence in absurdity, and authenticity in chaos.”

Sirois has been working with Long Island City Artists for the past year, devising live performances for their opening and closing events. She is now acting as the Performing Arts Director, so she is responsible for coordinating live performance at The Plaxall Gallery. She reviews proposals from outside companies, and books the space to make sure it’s fully utilized.

“Working in a non-traditional theatre space is exciting. We are so lucky to have this amazing venue to work in, and a wonderful team of people to help make this possible,” Sirois said. “Your limitations become gifts. We were able to create a very different and visually interesting show, where the audience was surrounded by art themed to our play, and encouraged to move around the space, while watching the performance.”

Though the work she gets is mostly in acting, Sirois said she has also done quite a bit of directing in the past few years.

“I love devising new work. I usually produce one big show every two years,” she said. “Producing in New York City is always stressful, so the piece has to be worth it, … and Garden of Delights definitely was.”

In her spare time, Sirois gets laughs as a current member of Katie Goodman’s Broad Comedy, a feminist musical sketch comedy show that tours all over the country. Their residency at the SoHo Playhouse, will start up again this fall. In October, as part of the Ars Nova Fling, she will be directing the NYC premiere of Kieron Barry’s new play “Tomorrow in The Battle.”

Talking about her favorite acting experiences, the talented blonde-haired beauty shared that the best roles are always the ones that terrify you.

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