Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul

The Sorcerer's Apprentice
Open Eye Figure Theatre
Review by Arthur Dorman | Season Schedule

Also see Arty's reviews of The Good Person of Setzuan and Aunt Raini


Photo by Paul Eide
Up until a few days ago, my familiarity with The Sorcerer's Apprentice stemmed from a segment of Walt Disney's classic animated film Fantasia, which cast guileless Mickey Mouse in the title role. I knew the music used in that movie was a tone poem written by Paul Dukas, but had never heard it performed apart from the film. I vaguely knew that the work had some literary origins. Thanks to Open Eye Figure Theatre's exquisitely conceived and designed rendition, I now know that it started as a poem written by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in 1797.

Goethe's original poem consists of fourteen stanzas, which tell the succinct story of an apprentice to a sorcerer who, when the master is away, enchants a broom to fill a tub with buckets of water, only to realize that he lacked the skill to halt the magic. The result is chaos until the master returns and puts things back in order. Disney's Fantasia sticks closely to the same story. Michael Sommers, who might be considered Open Eye's "Sorcerer in Residence," expanded on the original for their production first mounted in 2012. Sommers starts with a starving boy who is tricked by Master Krat, a cat-like personage who is the Sorcerer's aide-de-camp, into becoming an apprentice.

Sommers also devised a sequence of tasks which take the boy from a life source (the well) to a strengthening forge (the fire) to a purifying retreat (the bath) to a place of repose (to sleep). Filling the bath is where the familiar out-of-control broom episode fits in, but each task brings the apprentice its challenges. These involve some dark themed material, making the play potentially frightening for younger children. The ending, though, brings us to a sense of calm, and makes everything feel safe. There is also humor here and there, such as Master Krat's insisting that the boy is a mouse, despite the boy's efforts to correct him. When at last the boy is able to point out an actual mouse to Master Krat, he is terrified by the tiny rodent.

I'll be honest. The intricacies of the plot are difficult to follow. The key points are made by the repeated refrains of "to the well," "to the fire," to the bath," and "to sleep", as if some kind of liturgy, and these are explained to be metaphors for stages in the journey to growth and fulfilled being. It did strike me as an attempt to overload a slender tale with cosmic significance that doesn't fully bear fruit.

Yet The Sorcerer's Apprentice is a joy to watch, a work of beauty to behold. The puppets are beautifully designed and crafted, with unfettered imagination applied to creating puppets for cooking utensils, a book of magic spells, brooms and axes. There is even a flying piece of chalk. The primary characters—the Sorcerer, the Apprentice, and Master Krat—have their personalities carved into their faces, and different size puppets are used to create effects of distance and perspective. In the case of the Sorcerer, a full size mask is worn by one of the puppeteers in several scenes, giving him an aura of omnipotence.

The puppeteers handle the puppets—primarily marionettes, but hand puppets, stick puppets, and shadow puppets are used as well—with agility, clarity and grace. The voices endowed to the characters convey each one's persona. The credits list the four puppeteers without distinguishing who handles which character, so all I can say is that their work as a team is in utter harmony.

Aside from the beauty of the puppets and the polished skill of the puppeteers, the scenic design by Jim Muirhead in, behind, and around the petite performance space creates an imaginative kingdom for the story. In concert with Michael Murnane's lighting, an integral aspect of the show, the stage becomes the enchanted space the story requires. Eric Jensen composed a score to accompany the play, mirroring the tale's meanderings through fright, joy, sadness, anger and contentment. Who would suppose that such a small setting could contain such a bounty of beauty, atmosphere and imagination?

I recommend Open Eye Figure Theatre's The Sorcerer's Apprentice as a stunning visual treat that melds imagination, craft and heart. The story is, by turns, frightening and tender, amusing and perplexing. Probably the best way to enjoy it is to not think too much about what deeper meaning is intended by "to the well, to the fire, to the bath, and to sleep" and take the story at face value, while cherishing the beauty, the cleverness, and the magic of its stagecraft.

The Sorcerer's Apprentice continues at Open Eye Figure Theatre through March 13, 2016. 506 East 24th Street, Minneapolis, MN. Tickets are $18.00 general admission, $15.00 for seniors (65+) and $12.00 for students. Recommended for ages 8 and up. For tickets and information go to openeyetheatre.org or call 612-874-6338.

Conceived, Written, Designed and Directed by: Michael Sommers; Music Composition: Eric Jensen; Light Design: Michael Murnane; Sound Design: Sean Healey; Puppetry Sculpture: Michael Sommers; Puppet Costuming: Susan Haas; Marionette Engineering: Kurt Hunter; Prop Design and Scenic Artist: Jim Muirhead; Stage Manager: Brandon Sisneroz

Puppeteers: Kalen Keir, Kat Luna, Rick Miller and Liz Schachterie.


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