“The Blue Demon”
By R. J. Donovan
Huntington Theatre's latest offering, "The Blue Demon," is ablaze with the rich colors and eye-appealing costumes of a dreamy Arabian Night. The show’s content, however, is not as satisfying. Despite hopes for something greater, the evening ends up as thin as Scheherazade’s veil.
Written and directed by Darko Tresnjak, the premise of the intermission-less evening is simple -- storytelling. The Court Jester of a powerful Sultan is dead. The Jester's demise was no one's fault, however three men (a Jeweler, a Tailor and a Scrivener) all assume they accidentally and independently played a part in his death.
The point is made that the three men were born within days of one another and have made their lives in this town without ever knowing one another. And the situation would have remained that way, had they not been tragically linked by the Jester.
The Sultan (Gregory Derelian) is outraged at having lost his source of amusement and orders the three to be beheaded. His chief concubine, Scheherazade (Roxanne Hope), steps in and rightly points out there is an opening at the Palace for a new storyteller. So why not have each of the three men spin a fascinating yarn. The creator of the best tale becomes the new Jester. The other two will die.
All of this is based, of course, on the idea on Tales of 1001 Arabian Nights where Scheherazade used imaginative storytelling night after night, to avoid her own death.
The scene is set, so to speak, from the moment the audience files into the theater. David P. Gordon’s majestic stage set consists of gigantic concentric picture frames. Golden mosques glisten in the distance and oil lamps hang throughout. With the house lights still up, costumed musicians slowly drift towards their positions on either side of the proscenium.
Once the groundwork is established, the Tailor tells a tale of a magical dress that causes the wearer to fall under the spell of a slimy wizard. The Scrivener tells of a lonely prince who falls in love with a tiny woman who grows through his love. Sadly, she almost disappears when he becomes smitten by another. And finally, the Jeweler's story is of a virgin-eating dragon and the hapless rube who takes on the role of savior and slayer.
Of the three stories, the Scrivener's is the most fulfilling. The presentation involves puppets and life-size actors wearing masks. The staging is both creative and heartbreaking. Brian Sgambati and Anna Belknap, featured in each of the tales, are Prince and Princess respectively. (Credit for the artistic puppets and masks go to Kris Holmes, Denise Wallace and Janet Meyers. The multiple Princess puppets are deftly manipulated by Paul Cortez.)
Although all three stories are worthy of telling, their presentation is uneven. And while the evening begins with a certain reverence and solemnity, the style drifts from childish to slapstick. Add local references to Brookline and Mitt Romney and you've got a book that descends into vaudeville as it panders for a cheap laugh.
With Darius de Haas as the Jeweler, Tom Titcone as The Tailor and Matt Ramsey as The Scrivener, the rest of the company play multiple roles, appearing in each of the tales. (Kirk MacDonald is The Jester at the start of the evening, but he has more fun as The Peddler in the Jeweler’s tale.)
The play’s title, by the way, is a reference to insomnia and those nagging torments that keep us awake at night.
“Blue Demon” is at The Huntington Theatre, 264 Huntington Avenue in Boston. For information, call 617-266-0800 or log onto www.huntingtontheatre.org.
Production photos by T. Charles Erickson
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