Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Take a Holiday...

What do the teachings, mythology and cultural icons of Native Americans have to do with traditional ‘Christian’ Christmas? “Incongruous!” you may bark. But if that is your answer, then you have not seen Vitalist Theatre’s new masterpiece, Anung’s First American Christmas.

I’ll admit that when Laughter first showed me the model of the set and explained the premise of the show, I could not help but be skeptical. As I say in the Foreword of Peter Pan’s NeverWorld, I have acquired a great respect and admiration for Native American culture and beliefs. Thus, mixing their sacredness up into all that has come about from the Xmas holiday did not quite sit right with me. But as Laughter explained more of what would develop within the story of Anung, the clouds began to disperse.

I don’t want to say I doubted, for I knew the caliber of those producing the play. I mean after all, it is written by Sparrow, the man who honed the craft of writing in me. Blend these two incongruous clashing cultures? Sure, I knew he’d manage it. But I should have realized the degree to which he could resonate their similarities. During the premiere’s after party Bart (speaking of a particular “cross reference”) told me, “Sparrow is a genius.” Bravo, Sparrow!

It’s a show full of, well, vitality. It speaks to the heart (without the sense of “cheese” that this idea conjures), plays on fears, stimulates the intellect, ignites wonder and generates laughter as well.

Everything I’ve said up until the point of actually viewing it (posts here and here) can be doubled in magnitude. The shadow work, puppetry, costumes, sound design, set manipulation and lighting are not to be missed. A portion of the Dreamtime is truly invoked onto the stage. Anung’s journey races forward and yet pleasantly lingers… just as in a dream.

Everyone is to be congratulated, but the show just would not work as well as it does without the delightful performance of Eden Newmark, who portrays Anung on the quest. She commands the stage, the embodiment of a rambunctious, eager and nervous young boy. Brava! (Gee, what other brave little boy do we know who has been played by talented women?) And allow me to give an additional “Bravo!” to the whole cast.

Children were in attendance as well. How wonderful to see their reactions. Whether it be cowering at the dreadful Weendigo or chuckling at the silly-but-scintillating Turtle, they seemed just as caught up in the dream as anyone.

Anung’s First American Christmas shows that the spirit of one story can take many forms, can be disguised and repackaged until it becomes difficult to see where one version ends and another begins. To give you some idea of what I mean: At one point, shepherds argue whether their visitor had been a bird or an angel. But when the visitor’s message is clear … does it really matter?

At the after party, I literally found myself munching a cracker to the rhythm of the dreams (ok... I meant to type drums... but both work!) at the finale.

It’s a magical work.

If you are in the Chicago area, I urge you:
Take a trip across Space and Time to sink into the SpaceTime Continuum and transmute your old knowledge with (k)new, to gain a better understanding of the mystical world around you.

Bravo Vitalist Theatre!

You can find information about the show here.

The image I used in this post came from the Vitalist Theatre website. The image is © Lori Reed.
Please allow its usage to promote the show and Reed Studios.

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