Blue Spruce Theatre hasn’t been around for a while—and they’ve been missed. This weekend only (through May 26th) you can see why when they return for five performances of magical, operatic proportion at Arsenal Center, Watertown.
GOBLIN MARKET and THE RAG DOLL are one-act musical fantasies, linked only by the faintest flutter of fairy wings—and the same remarkable performers in both. Of the two, GOBLIN MARKET (by Polly Pen and Peggy Harmon) is the most classical, with gorgeous period music, some borrowed from composers like Brahms and Scarlatti, to serve as perfect settings for the famous “Goblin Market” poem by Christina Rossetti.
Rossetti’s cautionary tale about resisting the pleasures of the night gives choreographer Kira Cowan ample opportunity to translate the forbidden/forbidding images into gestural form. Director Jesse Strachman’s performers do it all superbly. They sing, act and dance the dance of “goblins, rats and wombats.” Teresa Winner Blume is riveting as the sister who falls under the goblins’ spell, whirling in ecstasy as she joins the goblin men, devouring their enchanted fruit. (Rossetti is most famous for her religious writings so you can imagine the Freudian symbolism rampant in “Goblin Market!”)
Abigail Clarke gives a lovely, solid performance as the sensible, heroic sister who embarks on a journey of sacrifice to match wits with the goblins and save her sister. Rossetti’s language is florid and quite funny at times and both Blume and Clarke capture the Victorian spirit of the piece. Music director Dan Rodriguez’s quartet plays nimbly and oh so exquisitely in the classical mode, aided in large part by Maiani de Silva (violin) and Kett Chuan Lee (cello). (The only hitch in the proceedings are the costumes which become scenery—a clever idea in the abstract but fraught in the concrete, when the undoing and doing up of those pesky buttons does the women in. Sarah Caldwell used to have singers dressing and undressing during arias and it most always proved fatal.)
After intermission you’ll be treated to a world premiere of THE RAG DOLL with music and lyrics by David Reiffel, book by Sylvia Graziano. Blue Spruce enlisted Reiffel when they were looking for a companion piece to “Goblin Market.” (You can’t go to an evening of cabaret in Boston without hearing a number composed by Reiffel, his songs are so imaginative and sing-able.) The music for THE RAG DOLL ranges from “new” to “formal” to Sondheim-inspired (The “thimble as a symbol, brine as a sign” song sounds like an outtake from INTO THE WOODS for heaven sakes), all of it delightful.
A violent storm brings a mysterious homeless woman (Blume) to Clarke’s door, looking for shelter…or perhaps, something more? Clarke is amusing as the contemporary young woman too busy with her ear buds and IPhone to bother with someone out of her element. Reiffel has an ear for the absurd in the mundane—and the story benefits from the surprise and the humor in his lyrics. Blume is simply spellbinding (I couldn’t resist) as the woman who likes words beginning with “W.” How about WONDERFUL?