THE BASICS: A pair of poetic one-acts by William Butler Yeats, produced by the Irish Classical Theatre Company, in collaboration with the Lehrer Dance Company and the Torn Space Theater. PROJECT, directed by the ICTC’s Vincent O’Neill, plays weekends (incl. Saturday and Sunday matinees) at the Andrews Theatre, through May 8th. The show, with its single intermission, runs about an hour and forty five minutes.
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: Both plays, legends of a sort, are set in rural Ireland, at some remote, unspecified time. In the first, LAND OF HEART’S DESIRE, a pretty young bride is seduced from the dull but steady world of hearth and home by the wild woodland Faeries, who have captured her imagination in book form. In AT THE HAWK’S WELL, a wasted old man and a wild young warrior spar verbally at a magical well guarded by hawk spirit. The well tantalizes with a promise of immortality, but the quest for it seems to be something of a fool’s errand.
THE PLAY, THE PLAYERS AND THE PRODUCTION: The renowned Irish poet William Butler Years apparently wrote twenty six theater pieces in his lifetime, and considered himself a dramatist. You’ve never seen Yeats on stage, you say? Welcome to the club! If you get over to THE YEATS PROJECT, the reason for this apparent neglect will become clear. These are awkward, humorless, symbolist dramas, designed (or so say the program notes) to invoke a sort of communal rapture in their intended (Irish) audiences, by virtue of a shared mythology. Now this may be well and good for director O’Neill, and for some other members of the creative team. But Buffalo audiences a decidedly different kettle of fish. A long Glossary of Terms is included in the program, and all who attend (excepting Irish folklore experts) are strongly advised to get there early and read it. Also the synopses. These things help. The cast has been steered away from heavy Irish brogues, thank goodness! Even so, some of the language, which is quite beautiful, gets lost in the Unfortunate Andrews Space, where people are always saying things with their backs to you. Fortunately, Yeats’ repetition of key lines and phrases allows you to make up for what you don’t quite hear and understand the first and second times.
Considering the substantial drawbacks of the content, it’s amazing that the YEATS PROJECT is as good as it is. Fortunately, the Lehr dance troupe goes a good long way towards rescuing it. These lithe, sensuous, bodystockinged dancers bring the Faerie Folk vividly to life, and permeate the action continuously from their places on the periphery. Kudos to them all. And to Todd Lesmeister, Mary Ramsey and Inga Yanoski for the evocative sound and music elements. O’Neill has assembled a topnotch cast, but the roles here are pretty darn thankless. Petite Faith Walh (twelve years old) projects well as the Faerie Child, although I kind of expected her head to do a 360 (a la EXORCIST) in the course of her ranting and raving. And Anthony Alcocer’s ultra-primitive, outsized Warrior seems like something out of a different show.
Torn Space Theater’s Dan Shanahan takes on the Unfortunate Andrews Space, but fares no better than most of his predecessors. There is nothing particularly felicitous or engaging about the design.
IN SUM: A couple of hothouse flowers. This adventurous project was obviously a work of love for many. Thank heaven for the Lehr dancers! PS: I’ll stick with the Yeats poems!
*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)
ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.
TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.
THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.
FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.
FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!