Sunday, December 6, 2009

Stuff of Dreams

How do they do it?

Baltimore's Single Carrot Theatre has recently offered us Shakespeare, Ibsen, comedy sketches, satires of slam poetry, and neo-classical myth. In their latest production, Illuminoctem, they've turned to yet another genre: mime theater. Like their previous productions, this presentation of a tale by George MacDonald dazzles by its professional rigor and creative exuberance.
The literary inspiration for the production is simple enough. MacDonald's tale features a witch (Giti Jabaily) who torments the "day boy" (Nathan Fulton) by keeping him in heavily lit places and torments the "night girl" (Alexandra Lewis) by keeping her in exactly the opposite. The inevitable happens: boy meets girl, the spell is broken, and we retire to love on a standard 24-hour schedule.
If the inspiration is simple, the production is complexity itself. Four choreographers designed the movement for four separate pieces of the play. Marilyn Mullen's opening movement establishes the violence of the witch and her minions as they writhe and oppress the hapless, imprisoned girl and boy. Naoko Maeshiba gracefully stages the girl's encounter with fireflies as she flees from the witch. Sarah Anne Austin develops every conceivable gesture of longing in the romantic encounter between the boy and girl. The weakest piece is the final scene choreographed by Kwame Opare. The pulsing drums, day-glow effects, and rocking ensemble dance seem to have walked out from a rather dim disco lounge. The elegance and elision of the earlier scenes have disappeared.
The entire cast works supremely well as an ensemble, even if the athletic movements of the evening are clearly more of a challenge to some cast members than to others. Jabailly is starkly convincing as the witch whose mysterious desire to enslave and humiliate propel the action and finally her own downfall. As the light/darkness couple, Fulton and Lewis movingly project terror, naivete, and finally delight as they escape their opening oppressors. Jessica Garrett and Aldo Pantoja provide particularly strong performances as jailors who torment the imprisoned boy and girl through the ironic use of dramatic movement and musical movement as instruments of torture themselves.
Brendan Regan's consistent direction and the excellent lighting design by Joey Bromfield propel this eerie tale forward as a stream of dream-like images rapidly evolving from the starkest oppression to figures of hope and final redemption from evil, even for evil itself.

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