Monkey butt jokes, Bollywood-style dance sequences, parables about how to be the ideal husband and wife, delectable world music and actors who make virtue and duty seem kinda sexy intermingle in Constellation Theatre Company’s remounting of last season’s hit The Ramayana.
Peter Oswald’s adaptation lends Shakespearean grandeur and low humor to the 24,000-line verse poem depicting the feats of Rama (Andreu Honeycutt), the blue-skinned avatar of the god Vishnu, as he sets forth across the earth to rescue his wife Sita (Heather Haney) from the lecherous clutches of the demon king Ravana (Jim Jorgensen). Along the way, Rama gets help and insight from monkeys, eagles, and bears, as well as from the wind and a quite obliging mountain.
All of this is rendered in Constellation’s signature style of exotic visuals, fluid movement and story told through spellbinding music, this time provided by musician and composer Tom Teasley, who uses recorded tracks and live performance to weave an eclectic soundscape of world beats and classical Indian rhythms.
The set is little more than tiered platforms flanked by two golden ladders representing the connection between heaven and earth and lighting by A.J. Guban that evokes flickering flames, clouds, and placid washes of ocean. Kendra Rai’s costumes are a spectacle in themselves, especially the many-faced, fringed and fearsome masks worn by the demon king and his vixenish minions. The monkey masks, too, are skillful, with ears and brows that smack of simian while allowing the personalities of the actors to shine through.
The monkeys may be perhaps the most captivating part of the show, as the ensemble animatedly portrays chimp behavior such as flea-picking and hooting cries, as well as the all-too human emotions of jealousy and pettiness. Jon Odom waggles his bright blue fake bubble-buttocks with regal disregard, while Katie Atkinson plays Nila with beguiling petulance and Matthew McGloin displays bravery along with acrobatic dexterity as the monkey god Hanuman.
Rama and Sita are embodiments of how to live a virtuous, truthful life and as portrayed by Mr. Honeycutt (who rocks the azure skin look) and Miss Haney, they are at once majestic in their noble postures and sumptuous costumes and approachable in their willingness to convey that even the divine have their dark days. Mr. Honeycutt gracefully personifies the spiritually enlightened superhero “besotted with monogamy,” while Miss Haney displays discreet humor when teasing her protective brother-in-law Lakshman (Drew Kopas) and challenging Ravana on his morals, or lack thereof. She even willingly endures the pyre to prove her virtue with an “all in a day’s work to be a goddess” sense of tolerant savoir faire.
On the flip side, the evildoers are compulsively watchable, starting with Mr. Jorgensen as a silver-tongued seducer ruled by his desires, Misty Demory as his intractable and wise wife, and Miss Atkinson as an intuitive and therefore extremely dangerous demon.
Constellation’s production, directed by Allison Arkell Stockman, completes the trifecta of shows better the second time around—Arena’s Oklahoma! and Woolly Mammoth’s Clybourne Park being the other two. The Ramayana’s plush pageantry seems to glow brighter, the humor sharper and the physical storytelling approach more articulate in this reincarnation of the thousands-year-old Indian heroic epic.
by Peter Oswald
Directed by Allison Arkell Stockman
Produced by Constellation Theatre
Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard
Running time: Two and a half hours with one 15-minute intermission