Bay Area Theater Review: THE WILD BRIDE (Berkeley Repertory Theatre)

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by Tony Frankel on January 6, 2012

in Theater-San Francisco / Bay Area

GO TO THE DEVIL

Within the manifesto of Kneehigh – an avant-garde, world-class theater company based in Cornwall, England – is a simple but mighty statement: Kneehigh tells stories.  By remaining on the fringe of theater as a business, this magnificently inventive, multi-talented, multi-cultural team of artists brings to the theater refreshing and persuasive theatrical storytelling.  How?  They start with a story and then work as a collective, one which uses improvisation, physical poetry, and music to discover the ingredients which will best serve the story.

Kneehigh’s The Wild Bride at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre – directed by Emma Rice – Bay Area Theater Review by Tony FrankelThe story that became The Wild Bride, the ravishing production from Kneehigh now visiting the Berkeley Rep, is most associated with a 4-page Grimm’s Fairy Tale entitled “The Handless Maiden.” Yet there have been dozens of renditions floating around the globe before and after the Grimm brothers had at it. Adapter and director Emma Rice (also responsible for the thrilling rendition of Noël Coward’s Brief Encounter at A.C.T. two years ago) places her tale in a sepia-toned, Depression-era dust bowl where The Devil (Stuart McLoughlin) strikes a deal with a poor farmer (Stuart Goodwin), offering him a life of luxury in exchange for all that lies in the man’s backyard.  The farmer, believing that the Devil will get nothing but an old apple tree, forgot that his beloved little girl (rapturous Audrey Brisson, owner of a ravishing, lovely voice) was out back as well. Not long into the story, the Devil discovers that it is not so simple to obtain his part of the bargain as the girl is too pure, so he demands that the father lop off the girl’s hands.

Kneehigh’s The Wild Bride at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre – directed by Emma Rice – Bay Area Theater Review by Tony FrankelCarl Grose’s text is chockablock with vibrant imagery as the characters are also the storytellers, vacillating between dialogue and exposition. But what makes the macabre amputation all the more vivid is the way in which Etta Murfitt’s folksy, peasant choreography and Stu Barker’s bluesy-Celtic music serve to define character. When the lithe Brisson coils and swags with the agile Goodwin as if she were playing on a swing set, it establishes a defiant, tender bond between father and daughter and makes the dismemberment doubly appalling. Because of the music, the hollow-eyed McLoughlin, accompanying himself on guitar, comes off like a smooth but malevolent side-show Carny who travels the land doing what he can to survive in tough times. As despicable as his intentions are, we enjoy the company of this Brimstone and Treacle Woody Guthrie.

Kneehigh’s The Wild Bride at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre – directed by Emma Rice – Bay Area Theater Review by Tony FrankelThe sheer theatricality of the mutilation – slashed fabric and hands dipped in red paint – actually elicited gasps from the audience. The spectator is completely enthralled and the storytelling has just begun. This journey is meant to be discovered on the spot, but suffice it to say that The Girl leaves her father and lives in the wild (Patrycja Kujawska now assumes the role of the girl, mostly through achingly beautiful dance). The devil continues to connive and wheedle after “The Wild” finds happiness with a bonny Scottish prince (also Goodwin). Later in act two, the girl is now a grown Woman, played with an expressive, supple strength by Éva Magyar.

Kneehigh’s The Wild Bride at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre – directed by Emma Rice – Bay Area Theater Review by Tony FrankelKneehigh is an inspirational reminder that it is the way a story is told which will move, touch and arouse an audience. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that all of the actors move well, sing, act up a storm and play instruments (most notably Kujawska on violin and Brisson on accordion), all complemented by Stuart Ross as The Musician. By approaching very mature ideas in a childlike way, Emma Rice taps into the commonality of her viewers; thus, she satisfies our craving for communication, delight, surprise and sensation, even if that means being scared or shocked. The Wild Bride will make you feel like you are part of something bigger than yourself because it is understood through the communal magic of the theater that we are not alone in having experienced mistakes, greed and the joys that can come from grueling endurance. Some may feel sad that they must now return to Theater as Usual.

Kneehigh’s The Wild Bride at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre – directed by Emma Rice – Bay Area Theater Review by Tony Frankel

photos by Steve Tanner and kevinberne.com

Kneehigh’s The Wild Bride at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre – directed by Emma Rice – Bay Area Theater Review by Tony FrankelThe Wild Bride
Berkeley Repertory Theatre
extended through January 22, 2012
SPECIAL RETURN ENGAGEMENT:
January 26 to February 17, 2013
for tickets, visit www.berkeleyrep.org

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