A SINCERE FAIRY TALE Salamanticus melds
Asian influences and commedia.
The narrator of Salamanticus is an ebullient, banana-loving Leonardo Fibonacci (Tom Marion), the early Italian mathematician who brought to light the numerical sequence that occurs with striking frequently in nature. But this show isn’t about math, exactly. The famous mathematical pattern is just an allusion in Salamanticus, a Ziggurat Theatre Ensemble production written and directed by Stephen Legawiec. This original play employs Fibonacci broadly as a sort of stand-up comic patron saint of patterns, life-defining but difficult to observe, as it explores webs of seeming coincidence that connect its characters.
Salamanticus itself is a mysterious book, our narrator relates, which exhaustively describes the universe. Each early chapter introduces a different character, and so begin the first scenes of the play: We meet The Hoop Seller (Xander Johnson), a sweet, naïve young guy who’s perpetually out of work; the wily, worldly Kai Dancer (Dana Wieluns Legawiec); and The Vagrant (Laura Collard), a lovely, gracious young wanderer. Soon, the three are thrown together: they must save the land of Nor from the evil Amah (Kathleen L. Nation) and restore the ailing King (Vince Shatto, downcast in muted pink). They will do so, of course, only by finding the fabled Salamanticus.
Salamanticus the book soon reveals itself as interwoven with and even directing the actions of Salamanticus the play, and Legawiec unfolds this trope with a sensibility that melds Asian motifs with those of commedia. On a checkerboard floor, in front of a set of sliding Asian screens, its white-faced characters are whimsically stylized in color and gesture, with our leading trio in jewel tones: The slender Hoop Seller wears tender green; Legawiec’s comically treacherous Kai Dancer snakes about in gold and orange ombré; and the preternaturally serene Vagrant glides in clear, soothing blue. On the bad side, the evil Amah is in emerald with a spiky collar and hair, and her dwarfish, mute Astrologer (Patrick Brady, with disturbing facial expressions) shuffles around in red and black-spiderweb lamé. An ensemble of dancers appears sometimes in gold masks, to announce new chapters, later as rabid, red-haired boar-beasts (whose costumes are fantastic).
The guiding ethos is one of a sincere fairy tale, and the actors embody contrasting classical types without irony or winks: Collard’s selfless, graceful Vagrant has a voice that rings with a mysterious noblesse oblige, while reedy Johnson as the Hoop Seller hops like a gentle grasshopper, and Legawiec’s Kai Dancer shimmies, arches and rolls her ambered eyes. Nation as Amah is a booming force of sneers and evil laughs, and Kerry Ipema’s fierce Empress of Ubrazeng, a feared neighboring land, is an archetype of sonorous, sterling nobility.
In its earnest fantasy mode, Salamanticus often overtly interprets its own themes. That coincidence webs and bonds life “like a labyrinth,” and that the title tome allows one to “rise above and see the pattern” of that labyrinth, is explained more than once. Lines like “I don’t know how, but her fate is inextricably bound up with ours,” are typical of the show’s expository formality. That makes all the more welcome the wilder energies of movement and dance when they arise; the Kai Dancer’s seduction dance with one of her boar-beast jailors is sly, lively fun (Dana Wieluns Legawiec’s choreography, throughout, is excellent).