In this ambitious collection of Irish folktales, four siblings, neglected and mistreated after their mother’s death, are cursed and forced to live in exile for 900 years as swans.
Told as part of three mythological cycles, the tales are nestled in each other like Russian dolls. Just when you become familiar enough with one, out pops another.
The first part shows the fate of the children of the widowed Ling Lir (Steve Lebens) who marries his wife’s sister, Aoife, a fetching Amber A. Gibson. In the first act, Aoife is the tormenting wicked step mother, casting spells which transform the children into swans after banishing them from their home. Many tales later we learn the story of her own wretched upbringing that made her so ruthless. With Infinite Tales, there’s always another side, a different narrative, unseen motivation and consequences. The children squabble. They meander and fly in formation, trying to stay together through the travails of their lives because, in order for them to turn back into humans, they must reach the end of their 900 year banishment together.
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But 900 years is a long time to retain bonds between siblings who must also battle the elements, gods, and other despairing souls seeking solace and restitution. Even if they make it home, what will remain of the homeland they left? Or their beloved father? The cycles introduce numerous characters and situations that the siblings confront in the first 300 years, the second and then the final. So many questions, so many stories that must be told to honor memories and history.
[Infinite Tales] is a story about humans and their resistance to change, despite centuries of imprisonment, wandering, and endurance. It’s about how, at the core, we have an essence that demands to be preserved. – DCTS interview with Gregory Keng Strasser
Jordanna Hernandez shows unwavering energy and commitment to her character, the older sister Finnoughla. The other siblings are played winningly by Niusha Nawab, Seth Rosenke and Emily Sucher as Conn, the youngest of three brothers.
The interesting cross-gender casting is an example of the creative ingenuity that adapter/director Gregory Keng Strasser uses to tell the story, or multiple stories in this case.
The Infinite Tales is a different style for 4615 Theatre company, which seems to be experimenting with the Homeric vastness of the stories. There are famous warriors and tragic heroes whose stories impact the swans’ tales across the literary cycle, but trying to cover so much territory is tricky. Stick puppets behind a lit screen help show the plight of forbidden lovers, children conceived and snatched away, and the ongoing castigation of women who yet persist in striving to attain their own agency and voice. The strongest, most appealing sections are the beginning which sets up the children’s quest and the finale when they have to come to grips with their new reality. The enormous patch of stories in the middle wavers in adherence and attention. For example, Melissa Carter is magnetic as Dierdre, but her tale gets muffled in the cacophony of trying to cover so many stories.
The Infinite Tales closes December 29, 2019. Details and tickets
The performers function beautifully as an ensemble moving together in group settings, dancing in a gorgeous blue lit circle, crouching to hide from danger, or prancing off as forest animals. DeJeanette Horne as Oisin plays a pivotal role in resolving the story and Shaquille Stewart provides a solid presence throughout as well.
Lighting (Dean Leong) is particularly effective. Costumer Jeannette Christensen provides regal satin gowns and suitable village attire for the siblings.
The style of this new play reminds me of the work of other Pointless and Constellation theatres where seasoned directors have crafted flowing narratives from vast collections of tales using music, dance, puppetry, and visual arts.
As a commendable work in progress, here’s hoping that this world premiere will similarly keep these ancient tales alive.
The Infinite Tales – A World premiere Play of Irish Myths . Adapter/Director— Gregory Keng Strasser . Associate Director/Dramaturg— Aria Vlez . Cast—Jordana Hernandez (Finnoughla), Niusha Nawab (Aed); Seth Rosenke (Fiachra); Emily Sucher (Conn); Melissa Carter (Dierdre and others); Amber A. Gibson (Aoife and others); Steve Lebens (King Lir and others); Shaquille Stewart (Afraic and others); DeJeanette Horne (Oisin and others) . Sound and Composer—Jordan Friend; Lighting Designer— Dean Leong; Set Designer—Willow Watson; Puppetry Designer—Matthew Pauli; Costume Design— Jeannette Christensen; Scenic Artist— Kelley Rowan; Choreography for “Cu Chulainn” – Paige Washington; Production Stage Manager and Fight Choreographer— Paola Vanessa Losada; Assistant Stage Manager— Grace Sperber-Whyte; Produced by 4615 Theatre Company . Reviewed by Debbie Minter Jackson.