"The Tale of the Fisherman and the Golden Fish" is an enchanting confection for both youngsters and adults that brings to the fore the diverse strengths of two theater companies, both grounded in Russian theatrical traditions.
The first family series production from the new partnership between Arlington's Classika Theatre and Synetic Theatre is a rare example of a collaboration based on economic realities paying rich artistic dividends.
"The Tale of the Fisherman and the Golden Fish" is an old folk tale that was given a lyrical, romantic adaptation by one of the lions of Russian literature, Aleksandr Pushkin (1799 -- 1837).
Synetic's performances for children are usually pantomime driven, but Director Paata Tsikurishvili has added Pushkin's text, in keeping with Classika's practice. The result is a seamlessly flowing combination of poetry, evocative classical music and acting based on animated facial expressions and sumptuous movement, with Pushkin's narrative recited by a "storyteller" (Greg Marzullo).
This version of the yarn may be Russian, but it is based on a universal theme and similar to a familiar Brothers Grimm fairy tale. A poor and kindly old fisherman (Irakli Kavsadze) isn't having much luck until he catches a magical golden fish (Anna Lane). The fish pleads for its life, promising the fisherman to fulfill a wish in return. The fisherman, however, returns the fish to the sea, wanting nothing for himself. But when his grasping wife (Catherine Gasta) hears about the fish, she commands the fisherman to return repeatedly to the sea. Her rapidly escalating demands begin with a new washtub and culminate with her desire to be Ruler of the Sea.
The mild-mannered fisherman is forced to go back again and again to summon the golden fish from the ocean depths, carrying his wife's increasingly grand requests even as he is forced to remain living in dire poverty. Finally, the fish decides to teach the woman a lesson.
Classika's resident set and costume designer, Ksenya Litvak, seemingly inspired by Synetic's frequent use of flowing cloth to create striking imagery, has created a vivid fantasy world using draped silver lame for mountains and richly hued, sparkling blue streams of material that bring to life an ocean both raging and placid in Classika's intimate performing space.
The scenes of the fisherman battling the elements and of the fish gracefully swimming are simple but stunning visual effects with movement that is an elegant mixture of dance and mime created by Synetic's resident choreographer, Irina Tsikurishvili.
Even inanimate objects, such as an old washtub, come alive with movement and project personality in this swirl of fantasy. The only visual flaw is oddly amateurish makeup for the fisherman and his wife, with crudely drawn black lines garishly suggesting age and diminishing the magical aura.
With rapidly fluttering eyelids, exaggerated postures and expressive movement timed to often rapidly paced music, Kavsadze manages to evoke sympathy throughout the cartoonlike performance as the beleaguered husband. Lane's performance is quite different, as she creates an enigmatic character with understated facial expressions and languid movement, often swaying in gentle ocean currents. Versatile Nicholas Allen creates a lively dog and several ensemble characters.
The music, which was not credited, alternates between lush and powerful. The effect of the combined presentation for the eye and the ear is hypnotic, entrancing both the children, who make up most of the audience, and the adults who accompany them. Recommended for children age 4 and older, the performance runs less than an hour, stretching a short tale as much as possible. It seems all too brief for the adults who are enjoying the splendor created before them, but it is probably just about right for the kids who are, after all, eager to get on to the post-show parties.
"The Tale of the Fisherman and the Golden Fish" continues through Aug. 8 at Classika Theatre, 4041 S. 28th St., Arlington. Showtime is noon Saturdays and Sundays. For tickets or information, call 703-824-6200 or visit www.classika.org.