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The Death Trip – Center Stage one-woman show elucidates the psychedelic experience

Josie Hyde

Josie Hyde

The Ayahuasca plant, when brewed with several other plants of the psychotria genus, produces a psychedelic trip that rivals the synthetic death’s-door effects of DMT. It’s known as the “vine of death.” In Peruvian ceremonies the act of ingesting it is known as “la purga” because of the all-sluices open purgatorial nature of the experience, sometimes even curing diseases. And for one woman, it has been all these things — it has cured her and expanded her consciousness in equal parts. She brings her tale to Center Stage Theater tonight and Saturday.

In the one-woman show “Wind in a Mirror: Ayahuasca Visions,” Josie Hyde uses storytelling, poetry, music and bizarre, Peter Max-ish animations to bring this story to life. A child of the ’60s and no stranger to LSD and expanding her mind, Ms. Hyde claims the late monologist Spalding Gray as a friend and muse. (“He gave me a lot of encouragement … he called me his female opposite,” she says. “We argued.”)

'Green Can Drive You Crazy,' a still shot from the multimedia portion of the show.

‘Green Can Drive You Crazy,’ a still shot from the multimedia portion of the show.

Twenty years ago, Ms. Hyde was working on her writing and performing poetry, and was already dreaming of her own show. But she also had an auto-immune illness, and was unable to sleep.

Searching for treatment led Ms. Hyde to the Amazon and her first Ayahuasca ceremony. It brought her to her knees, she says, but it managed to cure “95 percent” of her illness. The depression that had gone along with the illness also vanished.

“I saw my whole life almost at once,” she says of her first trip. “It was like a chiropractic adjustment of the psyche. Click-click-click. It all made sense.”

“The real significance of the ceremony is a death-bed reckoning,” she continues. “It sets you straight … It leaves you speechless and is often accompanied by the feeling of being electrocuted.”

The experiences lend themselves to poetic renderings, according to Ms. Hyde. Since her first ceremony at age 52, she’s been back eight times in the 13 years since, and participated in over 150 ceremonies, staying in the Amazon for up to two months. So she has a lot of material.

Her first experience planted the idea for a show in her head, but it’s taken until tonight to premiere it, after a workshop at the Marsh Theater in San Francisco and Santa Barbara’s Pescadrome earlier in the year.

Tom Lackner, of Headless Household, composed the soundtrack, though ceremonial music from the Amazonian shamans Don Agustin Rivas Vasquez and Don Jose Campos is also included. Ms. Hyde’s daughter, Rani DeMuth, a director, turned Ms. Hyde’s art into video.

“It’s the right thing for now, like LSD was for the ’60s,” she says, adding that she’s not alone in taking the trip. She sees it as a sacrament, not as a recreational drug, and that it’s not for everyone. It’s helped her in her approach to death, especially when she had 11 friends die in one year.

There’s a lot of humor in this show about death, guilt, and transcendence, she says, and most of the jokes are at her expense. “And that’s why I continue to (take the ceremony) because I am still not home free.”

Free from what, I ask.

“Stupidity!” she laughs. “I’ve learned that whatever it is I think … that’s not it.”

‘Wind in a Mirror: Ayahuasca Visions’
When: 8 p.m. tonight and Sat.
Where: Center Stage Theater, Paseo Nuevo
Cost: $22
Information: 963-0408 or www.centerstagetheater.org

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