‘The Ramayana’ by Constellation Theatre remounted at Source in D.C.
By Nelson Pressley
Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2011
It hasn't taken long for Allison Arkell Stockman and Tom Teasley to form one of the most distinctive theatrical partnerships in Washington. Stockman, artistic director of Constellation Theatre Company, has aggressively tackled projects stamped by such major stylists as Mary Zimmerman and Julie Taymor ("The Arabian Nights," "The Green Bird"). Composer-percussionist Teasley frequently provides exotic live music.
The Stockman-Teasley experience is on full display in "The Ramayana," which was so popular during its run last spring that it's back (through Aug. 21) at Source Theatre. Arrive early and you can watch Teasley in his corral next to the small stage, working an array of unusual instruments, electronic and acoustic, creating alluring sounds to usher in Stockman's Hindu adventure. Once the show begins, Teasley blends into Stockman's rich mix, even as his music continues to trigger the production's vivid moods.
The play is English playwright Peter Oswald's adaptation of the Indian epic, a long, poetic saga of good and evil and enlightenment. This stage version feels a little more devout than "Star Wars" and "The Matrix" and "Wicked," but it still features gods and demons, supernatural combat, self-discovery and flying monkeys.
How do you manage that in a low-ceilinged, fewer-than-150-seat theater? Stockman is adept at inspiring make-believe, with her first apostles being her balanced ensemble. The actors take to the ceremonial dialogue easily; they are formal and serious, yet appealingly light.
The three leads are particularly smooth. Andreu Honeycutt has a peaceful aura (and deep blue skin) as Rama, the deity taking human form. Heather Haney is radiant as Rama's wife, Sita, whose abduction drives much of the conflict. And Jim Jorgensen cruises through his scenes as the demon king Ravana, nailing the cliches of the sophisticated villain like a pool shark sinking bank shots.
No doubt it helps the actors immeasurably that they look terrific amid the show's design. Kendra Rai's bright, tailored costumes have storybook flair, matched by Anna St. Germain's masks (demons, monkeys, bears). A.J. Guban's simple, gleaming set makes the most of metal climbing apparatus framing the stage, and his dappled lighting is as atmospheric as Teasley's rippling, propulsive music. For a troupe just wrapping up its third season, the stage vocabulary is impressive.