Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Feather Gatherers


The Feather Gatherers
by Normandy Sherwood and Craig Flanagin
based in part on the Russian folktale The Soldier and the Devil
directed by Normandy Sherwood
presented by The Drunkard’s Wife
produced by The New Ohio Theater as part of its Ice Factory series

There’s an old Russian folktale, The Devil and the Soldier… The soldier sells his fiddle to the (disguised) devil for a book that tells what will happen in the future. Then the soldier is treated to three days at the devil’s swank home (guess where). When he returns to the world, he realizes that he’s been gone not three days but three years. His mother and his girlfriend don’t recognize him, reject him. Naturally, our man becomes rich, but finally gets his fiddle and happiness back in a card game with the Evil One, at which he – also naturally – loses his wealth. Stravinsky based L’Histoire du soldat on this fable.

The theater company The Drunkard’s Wife has taken the tale and adapted it into a marvelous production, The Feather Gatherers, produced by The New Ohio Theater as part of its Ice Factory series. It’s written by Normandy Sherwood and Craig Flanagin. The play presents us with The Demon and The Soldier, of course, but also with an Orphan (who’s responsible for making it rain) as well as various other characters and dancers, including a Narrator and a character called The Audience.

In addition, there are eight onstage musicians (that is, including the conductor). From time to time they play bits from Stravinsky’s piece, from time to time folkish music.

The Audience (note the capital) is on stage when we enter, listening to Slavik singing on an old phonograph. Then the sits in the front row to watch the show. He occasionally walks on stage interfere, only to be seated again by the Narrator. Said Narrator, given to us in a superb performance by Ean Sheehy, walks us through the tale speaking so often that we experience the evening largely as a storytelling.

All the performances, in fact, are terrific – Juliana Francis Kelly as the delicious Devil, Jess Barbagallo as the rather androgynous Soldier, Admiral Grey as the Orphan (whom the narrator describes as “a little creepy”)…
Under Ms. Sherwood’s extraordinarily deft direction, the production exhibits a complex technique that’s a match for the simplicity of the plot. Its director uses every method she can find to distance us from the play – the onstage musicians, The Narrator, The Audience and humor through and through. The actors are miked, dissociating bodies from voices. The simple folk dances don’t take themselves too seriously and remind us that we’re watching a performance.

Ms. Sherwood, along with the company, has also designed the beautiful set (hangings) and costumes. The stage picture is complex are richly textured.

Sometimes the actors – even miked – couldn’t be heard well over the music, and The Orphan is never really integrated into the plot. But never mind. The Feather Gatherers is a brilliant production! Let’s hope that The Drunkard’s Wife gives us more!