Sunday, September 09, 2012

Strange Tales of Liaozhai

You walk into the theatre carefully, skirting the floor-level stage, which is covered with gorgeous patterned silks and parasols and glittering chains of reflective circles. You take your seat and are then presented with the Strange Tales of Liaozhai, one tale about a collector of pigeons, another about love, more or less.

Jane Wang
Photo: Richard Termine
The first story is told by a man we do not see as Hannah Wasileski's lovely and evocative projections gradually appear and then melt away. The second is narrated by a woman who is not present as a character but who is quietly and unobtrusively active at the side wall, manipulating strings and alchemizing the panels of silk and brocade, parasols, and glittering chains into a variety of characters while speaking the narration into a headset. This is renowned theatre artist Hanne Tierney, who is the creator of the concept, text, and puppets and also a formidable multitasker.

There are some beautiful things here. The glittering chains are magical. There are moments in which the cloth panels ease into elegant, graceful shapes in a sort of origami-in-motion. The music, composed by Jane Wang and played by her on double bass, toy piano, and various stainless steel instruments of her own invention, provides a fluid, remarkable soundscape.

Strange Tales of Liaozhai represents such thoughtfulness, talent, and hard work that I really wanted to love it, or even like it. But the sad truth is that I spent much of the time bored. (Many people in the audience clearly enjoyed the show much more than I did.) Everything moves very slowly--even more slowly, I think, than is necessitated by the physical requirements of the projections and puppetry. Neither story is particularly compelling, and while many of the visuals are impressive, they aren't emotionally engaging. I will gladly stipulate that Strange Tales of Liaozhai is an impressive work of art, but I just didn't care.

(Second row center, press ticket.)

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