Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Queen: In The Heart Of The Beast

May my anger remain real and smaller than my love. 


It's always good to support local art, and original art. I find that displacing myself from traditional performance pieces periodically helps me open my mind and get some new ideas about what is possible in theater and shake up my expectations. It also keeps me from getting bored.

A reliable place to turn for such displacement is In the Heart of the Beast (ITHOTB), the uniquely artisan local puppet theater located on Lake Street. I attended their latest production, Queen, last weekend and it definitely was an eye opener.

Queen follows a grandmother after her grandson is killed. The Grandmother climbs into her grief and experiences it at many levels. Watching the show is like peeling an onion, seeing her search through her imagination and her pain for an answer to explain her grandson's death, an area to displace her hurt, a salve to heal her wounds. These places range from the sky to the bog to dragonflies and guitars and all sorts of other imaginative things.

The performance of Queen is split between a narrator; an acted out tableaux with puppets, masks and a set; and some beautifully performed musical interludes. The music was by far my favorite part of the show. The musicians are not only talented but blend very well, and their voices perfectly capture Grandmother's anguish.

"Rebel woman. It is time to heal the one we came to this realm with. Yah damn self. The wild girl. Let us pray."

The narration and puppetry, however, I struggled with. I love the concept behind this show and the actual handicraft of the puppets is gorgeous. ITHOTB has some true artisans, which is demonstrated not just in the exquisite masques but the incredible use of plain butcher paper, cleverly folded in front of your eyes, to create moving, living characters. It's a little like watching claymation come to life and it's really interesting. The projections, obviously hand-sketched, are also really lovely.
But somehow, someway, the show just didn't feel totally cohesive. I got a little lost in the magical realism portions, and I wonder if this is a show that suffers from just a little too much love. There are lots of great elements here but it can feel really opaque as a viewer encountering it for the first time. I can see this becoming a really tight show with just a little more editing and streamlining of the story.
If you're seeking reaction pieces to the recent police shootings and racial climate or are simply looking for a truly original, locally created piece of art by a highly diverse team, then Queen is for you. It's a complex show with some beautiful passages to offer if you're willing to open your mind to it, or at the very least, provides some gorgeous masques and really beautiful songs to listen to for a little while. It only runs for another week, so get tickets now if you're interested by clicking on this link.