Integrating set and story to create a politicized, hands-on theater experience, The Ravagers is a study in contrast.
Danaus, the brother of Aegyptus, raises 50 daughters in a secluded desert castle. The girls are raised in rote manner and never leave the palace grounds, meeting no men other than their father until their wedding days.
The Aegyptus boys, of which there are also 50, are raised to ask questions, travel and use their innate curiosity to better the world.
Danaus’ motives are sinister, which is discovered the day before his daughtes are married to his brother’s sons. Power hungry and desperately jealous of Aegyptus, Danaus directs each girl to murder their new husbands.
Danaus’ plan came off flawlessly, with the exception that he trusts fate to grant him children with identically programmable personalities. His oldest daughter, Hypermnestra, discovers a hole in the palace walls as a child and uses it to pass notes with a man on the outside. When she learns that her correspondent is also her cousin and husband-to-be, she refuses to kill him and instead runs away with him to explore the world she’s been kept from. Her sisters are left to clean up their bloody messes.
The cast is mostly comprised of recent college graduates, each of whom neatly demonstrate that it doesn’t take years of professional training to create good theater (although at times their delivery feels over-rehearsed). The creative sets, costumes, and choreography are lessons in efficiency for this true ensemble production.
The star of the show, though, is the theater itself. One can only imagine what the long-vacant Hollywood Theatre must have looked like in its Art Deco heyday, and it is a sadly crumbling reminder of what happens when historical buildings are not properly cared for.
The cast uses the city-owned theater to its advantage, leading the audience through vignettes around the theater in addition to utilizing the main stage. It’s the perfect dilapidated backdrop to this story of woe and vengeance (city officials say they hope it will also inspire its reuse).
The lighting is also great and a true feat, considering there is no heat, indoor plumbing or any other obvious amenities in the Hollywood. I definitely recommend bringing heavy layers, hot beverages and perhaps even a blanket to stay warm during the show.
This is the last show for Savage Umbrella in 2011 and a great performance for curious theatergoers. If you’re willing to brave the cold and the three-hour running time, this is definitely a worthy foray into politicized, avant garde theater.
+ See The Ravagers Nov. 14 and Nov. 17-19. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. at the Hollywood Theater in Northeast Minneapolis. For more information visit savageumbrella.org.