One of the reasons I always look forward to a Constellation Theatre production is because artistic director Allison Arkell Stockman never talks down to her audience. She challenges us to experience new types of theatre and a range of styles. If you have a fully Ibsenized and Stanisklavsky trained mind, like I do, it may take you an act, or even a production or two to adjust, but once you do, Constellation’s productions are often highly rewarding and entertaining.
The Green Bird is the third or fourth Constellation production I've seen underscored by the remarkable skills of musician Tom Teasley. I wrote in my review for The Ramayana that it was in that production that they finally figured out how to optimize the musical effects. This may have been part of it, but it may have also been that I had finally seen his work enough to fully adjust and open to the way his music affects the storytelling. In The Green Bird, I once again loved Teasley's contribution. The pre-show music is fun, upbeat, and a little off the wall. It lifts your excitement and prepares you for the play to come. During the play, the music is as much a part of the story as the costumes or the actors. It sets mood, builds suspense, and reveals character. It is an integral part of the theatrical experience. So I was surprised when a couple of friends, who were seeing Tom Teasley's work for the first time, responded with, “Yes, I loved it... but I did find it distracting a couple of times.” I realized that that was my reaction the first time I saw a completely underscored production. So if you haven’t been completely convinced by Constellation’s work with Teasley, give it another shot. I’ve grown to love it.
Stockman is further challenging her audience with the staging of The Green Bird. I am no expert in this, but it is clearly influenced by commedia dell’arte and clowning. The majority of the characters wear masks of some sort, physicalities are extreme, movements are precise, emotions are deeply felt beyond anything we humans express in our day-to-day lives. You may not be used to this type of performance, but Stockman assures you won’t be left behind. The play opens with a highly successful prologue that in music and movement introduces the characters and the back-story. This prepares you for the fantastical world of the play.
The acting is nearly universally top rate. John Michael MacDonald portrays the all-bark-and-no-bite King Tartaglia, displaying bravado with a deep and resonant voice, only to dissolve into woefulness at the slightest provocation. Nanna Ingvarsson is having a blast as the evil and lustful queen mother, Tartagliona. Every time she is aroused she comically twirls the tassels located at the end of her pendulous breasts. (Like her work on Women Beware Women, Kendra Rai’s costumes are inspired. Her playfulness with color, her sense of style, her imagination are phenomenal. The color and movement in the costumes are echoed in the equally excellent set, designed by A.J. Guban.)
Emma Crane Jaster and Ashley Ivey play the young twins Barbarina and Renzo with an endearing wide-eyed innocence. Worldly goods quickly spoil the fresh-faced twins, and both actors successfully make the transition to haughtiness. They are both brilliant, and Ivey's character portrayal was so complete that even knowing him personally it took me twenty minutes to realize that he was playing Renzo.
Matthew Wilson, quickly becoming recognized as one of the area's most talented people, shines as the traditional overeating servant Truffaldino. Katie Atkinson as Smeraldina matches him moment for moment with her elastic expressions. Their scenes together are electric! (The small amount I do know about commedia dell’arte was enough to raise an eyebrow at Atkinson playing Smeraldina. But the script explains all – Smeraldina has grown thin while caring for Renzo and Barbarina.)
Wilson wears a fat suit like you've never seen before. His stomach is grotesquely spherical, and is matched on the other side by round butt stuffing. Wilson makes the most of this suit, and when he bounces about the stage on his stomach in supplication, it is by far the funniest moment of the show. The comic appearance of the character is further enhanced by his mask – basically, a giant cock. With all that going on, I must confess to often wishing I could see more of Wilson himself. Was this a problem, or, like Teasley’s music, a theatrical element I am just not fully used to yet?
The largest issue seems to be the weak script. Perhaps it is meant to be so, as the script purpose seems to be to serve as the base of much delightful visual and aural spectacle. The text is a little long, and you might get a little tired of all those references to and speeches about self-love, but the cast and the staging quickly carry you along through an evening full of downright fun theatricality.
Through June 4