Friday, November 22, 2019

"Into the Darkness" by Collective Unconscious Performance at Shakespearean Youth Theatre

Collective Unconscious Performance's latest original work Into the Darkness is an adaptation of two fairy tales, "The Dark Princess" and "East of the Sun, West of the Moon." The bad news is they're only doing eight performances in a small space that's selling out; the only remaining seats are for this Sunday. The good news is this inventive adaptation of these little known stories, using music and puppetry, is really lovely. I've never seen Collective Unconsious' work before, and I'm happy to make their acquaintance with this piece. If you can't get tickets to this show, follow them on Facebook and make plans to see their next original work, Maiden Voyage, next spring.

"The Dark Princess"
(photo courtesy of Collective Unconscious)
In the first of the two tales, "The Dark Princess," we meet a princess (a sweet singing Anna Hashizume, with all of the other characters played by puppets brought to life by the ensemble) so beautiful that to look at her is to go blind. The princess herself is blind, a fact that her parents want to hide. So she is forced to live a lonely life, kept away from everyone. Until her father the king discovers that one can look at her through a special glass. Now, he says, everyone will love her, because they can look at her and see that she's beautiful. But the princess mourns because while everyone can look at her, no one really sees her, and none of her princely suitors love her enough to risk blindness by looking at her directly.

"East of the Sun, West of the Moon"
(photo courtesy of Collective Unconsious)
"East of the Sun, West of the Moon" is the story of the friendship between a girl (Kayla Dvorak Feld) and a polar bear (Boo Segersin). Except that the polar bear is also a girl, cursed by the trolls to take polar bear form during the day. When the girl discovers her bear BFF's secret, the bear-girl is taken away by the trolls, and the girl goes on a long journey to find her, aided by the Moon, Sun, and Wind. She must use her love, wits, and the aid of friends to save her BFF from the troll queen, who of course is a spoiled drag queen in a sequined mini dress and white go-go boots (delightfully played by Leif Jurgensen).

Artistic Director David Hanzal adapted the tales, directs the show, and designed the puppets and costumes, for a cohesive storytelling style that's sweet and funny, but also sad and poignant. The costumes range from basic black for the puppeteers, to a shimmering silver gown for the princess, to sweet white nightgowns for the girls. The puppets are weirdly cute, and well manipulated by the ensemble (which also includes Mickaylee Shaughnessy and Heather Stone). "The Dark Princess" features charming, funny, and sometimes sad original songs (composed by Dan Dukich), with musicians Sarah Modena (keyboard) and Steve Modena (guitar) providing the singing and speaking voices of the puppet characters. "East of the Sun, West of the Moon" features "re-imagined" classical music as a soundscape for this Nordic tale.

The two stories are different, but related in their central theme of true love, like any good fairy tale. Together they are a spell-binding 90 minutes of theater, music, and puppetry. It's all very well and thoughtfully put together by the team, for a truly unique performance.

Into the Darkness continues through November 24 at Shakespearean Youth Theatre, on the 3rd floor of Vandalia Towers in St. Paul (the space formerly known as the Umbrella Collective's SPACE).