and I headed back to Death Valley Junction from our dinner at the
Longstreet Casino coffee shop with plenty of time to spare before the
performance by Marta Becket (above) at her Amargosa Opera House.
We were amazed at all the people who'd showed up — the little theater
could hold about a hundred people and it ended up nearly full.
The place is a hoot — all its walls and ceiling painted by Marta
herself to resemble the inside of a Baroque opera house. It took
her four years to complete the job.
Today she is frail and birdlike, but still carries herself as a
dancer. She walks out onstage, sits in a chair and talks and
sings for about an hour. She has great presence, partly
diva-like, partly girlish. You come away from the show, from the
whole phenomenon of the Amargosa Opera House, with a swirl of questions.
Is it silly or sublime to be the biggest star in Death Valley, where there
are no other stars? Is it heroic or preposterous to create your
own world out in the middle of nowhere and dare the rest of the world
to ignore you?
All of the above, I guess. Marta's world is part David Lynch,
part Fellini, part senior high school play, part good old-fashioned
show-biz, utterly disciplined and professional. Once she
bought a ghost town and brought it back to life — now she's a bit of a
ghost herself, but right at home in the spotlight.
What's profound about it all, I think, is the reminder that all theater
deals in the presentation of spirits, not quite flesh and blood, not
quite illusion. She painted an audience for herself on the walls
of her theater, and every Saturday night at 8 o'clock between November
and May she conjures a real audience out of thin air, there on the edge
of Death Valley — she conjures us out of thin air, and we become part
of the ghostly goings-on. We lose some of our solidity in the process and feel
that we know what it's like to dance on air.
[Photos © 2007 Jae Song]