Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Blue Demon"

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note: entire contents copyright 2002 by Carl A. Rossi


written and directed by Darko Tresnjak

music by Michael Friedman

Anna Belknap … Wife/Princess/Last Virgin
Mehrea Blum … Concubine/Rabbi/Mourner/Virgin
Michael Cohen … Guard
Paul Cortez … Executioner/Puppeteer
Darius de Haas … Jeweler Gregory Derelian … Sultan
Dara Fisher … Sultan of Akra/Witch/Vizier
Tom Flynn … Wizard/King/Old Sultan
Lauren Hatcher … Concubine/Rabbi/Mourner/Virgin
Sean-Michael Hodge-Bowles … Guard
Roxana Hope … Scheherazade
Kirk McDonald … Jester/Servant/Peddler
Mariessa Portelance … Concubine/Rabbi/Mourner/Virgin
Matt Ramsey … Scrivener/Chancellor
Benjamin Sands … Guard
Brian Sgambati … Husband/Prince/Sexy Beggar
Tom Titone … Tailor

Musicians: Gabriel Boyers; Gunnard Dobozé; Kareem Roustom; Mike Wiese

I never dreamed I’d see it, but the Huntington has bared her midriff, wriggled up a storm and presented Boston with a spellbinding show: Darko Tresnjak’s THE BLUE DEMON. Who’d have thought the Old Girl had it in her? This DEMON is quite safe, mind you, both in content and presentation (the O. G. doesn’t drop ALL of her veils --- oh, gee, indeed!), but it’s the most satisfying and enjoyable show I’ve seen at the Huntington since … uh … uh ….

Writer-director Darko Tresnjak, who begins a two-year residency at the Huntington, proves to be as bewitching a storyteller as his heroine Scheherazade, culled from the pages of THE ARABIAN NIGHTS along with the germ of his plot: once upon a time (we are children again!), a Jewish tailor, a Christian scrivener and a Muslim jeweler --- citizens of old Damascus, yet strangers/foes to one another --- each believes himself to have caused the death of the Sultan’s humpbacked jester who warded off the Sultan’s nightly Blue Demon (i.e., insomnia). The grieving Sultan demands their heads as punishment, but the clever Scheherazade comes forward with a proposition: have each condemned man tell the Sultan a story; the best storyteller shall take the dead Jester’s place (the other two men --- chop, chop). The Sultan agrees, pulls up a carpet and he, Scheherazade and the audience hear Mr. Tresnjak’s three tales: The Tailor’s Tale (a faithful wife being tricked into lust for an evil wizard by way of an enchanted dress), The Scrivener’s Tale (a young prince meets and marries a diminutive princess who grows and shrinks in relation to the depth of his love for her), and The Jeweler’s Tale (a con-man Beggar posing as a prince battles a virgin-eating dragon to save the town and its one remaining virgin). The evening ends on a warm note of brotherhood with the storytelling foes becoming friends; however, Scheherazade adds a dash of salt: the men’s children, too, became friends --- but briefly. (That one word “briefly” puts a brilliant spin on things --- the Sultan is a cruel, bloodthirsty man; Scherherazade is no better than a slave; and human life comes cheap in this ravishing but barbaric world.)

I am a firm believer in the magic, universality and healing power of myths and fairytales, so it didn’t take long for me to fall under Mr. Tresnjak’s spell --- my heart may have been touched but once, but my eyes and ears were constantly beguiled. Though all three tales are well laded with Mr. Tresnjak’s cheeky (and, occasionally, topical) humor, each has its own distinct taste: crusty rye bread (Tailor), chilled white wine (Scrivener) and zesty cheese (Muslim) --- my tongue was beguiled as well. 2003 may have only just begun, but David P. Gordon has already designed one of the year’s loveliest sets, built from childhood dreams and storybooks: four gilded frames within frames, culminating in a burnished Arabian city against a Maxfield Parrish-blue sky and complimented by Linda Cho’s sumptuous costumes, which lend depth to the one-dimensional characters (when the Tailor’s evil wizard made his first slinky entrance, complete with a silver claw-forefinger, I thought, “Yes!” --- there was no other way he could have/would have been dressed). For the most part, Michael Friedman’s evocative scoring does just that --- underscores --- but comes into its own for the Muslim’s Tale, where the Arabian Nights happily give way to This Was Burlesque, complete with its own little showstopper.

DEMON’s cast is a fine ensemble --- walking illustrations, no more, no less, that move with a fleeting swiftness, scattering glorious images and sounds as they go: the beginning of the play with a concubine coming down the aisle, silencing the audience as she makes her way to recline onstage; Scherherazade’s opening monologue, done as a timeless echo thanks to an unseen throat mike; the pop-up menace of the ever-present Guards and Executioner; the literally on-again, off-again seduction scene between Wife and Wizard; the suspicious Husband trying on the enchanted dress himself and uttering a tomcat growl for its evil genius; the goat-like bleats from the musicians during a comic chase scene, complete with three rabbis; the Wizard’s swift punishment for his wickedness; the Scrivener’s Princess, introduced as a series of puppets as she grows and shrinks through the Prince’s love and ending with her moving little death; a red-haired siren turning into a terrifying witch; the Muslim’s Last Virgin transforming herself from mouse to bump-and-grind vixen; the appearance of the Dragon, right out of a morality play. Gleaming throughout, like precious stones in a clear brook, are seven Boston University students, each of whom I have seen in B. U. productions in the past year: Mehera Blum, Michael Cohen, Paul Cortez, Lauren Hatcher, Sean-Michael Hodge-Bowles, Mariessa Portelance and Benjamin Sands --- they blend in well with their polished elders; what a wonderful apprenticeship these students have been getting! It saddens me to think they are nearing graduation; how many of them will stay on in our area?

Once again, the Huntington has erred on the side of caution; perhaps Mr. Tresnjak can coax her to take the plunge into something darker but no less marvelous (Old Girl, is the magic pool of New York’s METAMORPHOSES in your future?). But, for now, Mr. Tresnjak has made a wondrous debut; should you want to introduce a child --- or an adult --- to the magic of theatre, THE BLUE DEMON is a lovely place to start.

The Sultan --- [GONG] --- is pleased.

"The Blue Demon" (3 January-2 February)
264 Huntington Avenue, BOSTON, MA
1 (617) 266-0800

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide