Monday, April 28, 2014

The Love of the Nightingale is at Constellation Theatre 

Overheard after the show:
“So elegant.”
“Violent beyond television but thought provoking.”

These are not words to describe some modern day urban myth which might be debunked as an unbelievable scary story-- but it well sums up an ancient one that Sophocles first told of 2500 years ago.

The snippets of his tale has been been adapted in many forms from Ovid in his magnificent opus Metamorphoses to the lastest theatrical treasure, Timberlake Wertenbaker’s The Love of the Nightingale.   

Allison Stockman, Constellation Theatre Company’s founder and director, said she
loved this play from the moment she read it.  Not only does it include all the exciting possibilities of theater (choreographied fight scenes, a retelling of Phaedra, a bawdy puppet show, wild Bacchanalian frenzy) but it goes to the meaning of theater and its  power of expression.
What is shocking in the ancient myth of the royal trio of Philomele, Procne and Tereus is not that it tells a story we do not know but it brings out human emotions that we know so well.

Megan Dominy as Philomele,  Dorea Schmidt as her sister, Procne, and Matthew Schleigh as Tereus, husband to one and rapist of the other--they are brave, daring in their own ways, wanting connections with other humans, and passionate in their needs.   Dominy, Schmidt and Schleigh --each emerge as strong personalities distinct from the company which plays the rest of humanity.

Unlike the decaying bodies found by unsuspecting travelers that stock fill urban myths,   this is quite vividly a bloody tale. 

While the play is abundant with good lines, as the tragedies pile up, each more horrible then the other, the most dramatic moments occur after Philomele can not speak--her tongue having been cut out by Tereus. 

What has started as a playful retelling of a classic has turned into  the scariest story of all.   Centuries of psychological oppression of individuals who can not speak  because of either their expected gender role or of linguistic suppression because of their colonial status are wrapped into the multi-layer possibilities of interpretaion of this very ancient myth. 
The actors  carry that essence into their transformation  (scene spoiler) when in  the resolution of the horrors  when they are transformed into  a nightingale, a swallow and a hoopoe.    Metamorphoses!

Tom Teasley has a unique talent for creating music that is at once ancient and modern.  Taking inspiration from Greek, Balan and Thracian music --particularly well suited for for his original music for this production,  Teasley also adds another layer to the eternal discussion of communication with music, so fitting for a play which ends when humans transformed  into birds communicate in what we hear as music.

BOTTOM LINE:  Turn off your TV and take a trip back to a tale ripped from the classics--The Love of the Nightingale  at Constellation Theatre, Washington DC,  until May 25, 2014.