Wild Swans is a Collaborative Kaleidoscope
by Rick Fournier
Also see Elizabeth's review of Twelve Angry Men
Wild Swans, a lively and complex tale conceived, directed and designed by Beth Peterson, is taken from five similar fairy tales by the creative team of playwright Nancy Olesen, lyricist/poet Roy MCBride, set designer Duane Tougas, and dramaturg Lynn Jeffries. They are joined by a highly accomplished musical team, as well as Dennis Spears and Geoffrey Jones as male vocalists. The show delights for the most part when it sticks to its fairy tale base, but over-reaches when it attempts to touch on current political situations concerning immigration.
The story is about Alma, played by Julie Kastigar, a girl who is born because her mother, expressing an overwhelming wish for a girl child, indicates a willingness to give up her six sons in order to have one daughter. The Old Woman, played very effectively by Laurie Witzkowski, also the story's narrator, overhears this moment of weakness and grants the wish. In this "be-careful-what-you-wish-for-moment," the sons are gone, turned into swans, and Alma arrives to become the only child. As she grows up, Alma senses that she has brothers who are gone and decides to go in search of them.
In act one, Alma's search takes her into the world, but also into The Forest of the Heart as well. Her character appears as a puppet which interacts with the Old Woman as well as many other characters in the forms of animals and mountains, set pieces and props which take on a life of their own, sometimes creating situations that are humorous. These character pieces move about a layered stage that opens itself up in a number of fanciful and colorful ways. Fabrics and windows both hide and reveal action as the story unfolds. All of this is accompanied by the music of a small orchestra and the drums and sound effects produced by the Old Woman/narrator. Her singing and the singing of the male vocalist add richness.
As the second act begins, Alma, now an actress in a large mask, continues her journey to the place where she learns what she must do to bring her swan brothers back to human form: spin stinging nettles into shirts for each of them, but not utter a word until she has completed her task. Discovered by an ineffectual king who marries her, Alma goes with him to the castle to face his hateful sister and a prime minister who wants her dead and gets his way. Overcoming this and all other obstacles, Alma is united with five of her brothers and gives them their shirts, restoring their humanity.
In the Heart of the Beast Puppet Theater has produced a rich, multi-layered production using an amazing variety of scenic elements. It will play at 7:30 PM on Fridays, 2 & 7 PM on Saturdays, and 2 PM on Sundays, through December 30th at Heart of the Beast Puppet Theater Mainstage in Minneapolis. Tickets prices range from $13 to $18. 612-721-2535 for reservations.