Friday, August 16, 2013

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Samurai Sensation

 The Circuit Theatre Company has the talent and the stamina to stage Nathan Allen’s wildly imaginative fantasy called THE VALENTINE TRILOGY—That’s three plays at the same time—in three weeks! (through August 17th). You can see them all in the same day or see only one of the three, if you like. The theme of heroism connects all three but each can stand on its own. The first is written in the style of a Western movie. The second uses Japanese film for its palette and the third is inspired by superhero film noir.

I saw the middle “Samurai” story, CURSE OF THE CRYING HEART, an epic tale of loyalty, betrayal, romance and fate, which, oh so strangely…and quite wonderfully, features a rock band so that the hero can articulate his distress (“Sayonara, Sadness”) in song! Allen’s clever script is both send-up and tribute to the genre.

The rather convoluted story of curses, evil plots and spectacular interventions is brilliantly directed by Skyler Fox. We’re delighted right from the get-go, even before the story starts, when a large Japanese scroll unfurls (sideways so we can read it like a screen crawl) with vital information about a princess who is the only heir to the Japanese throne and the evil man who killed her father and intends to kill her. It tells us “the princess waits for a hero.”

Our hero (Ryan Vona) is the last samurai, a man with an exceptional sword (coveted by that evil man) which can vanquish a throng of ninjas in a trice. All the good guys, it turns out, are better swordsmen than those poor ninjas. Sam Bell-Gurwitz as captain of the Princess’ guards dispatches a half dozen villains before breakfast! (Fight choreographer Trevor Olds makes it look incredibly dangerous!)

Circuit’s cast is marvelously game, with Vona leading the pack as the rock star/hero, surrounded by the stalwart Bell-Gurwitz, by Madeline Wolf-Schulman as the spunky princess, Becca Millstein as the poisonous femme fatale, Graham Techler as the Princess’ unfortunate intended and by Justin Phillips and Simon Henriques as enemies of the state.

Edan Laniado and Natalie McDonald provide hilarious comic relief—and high flying stage effects (thanks to the ninja extras and some puppet legs) a la Ang Lee’s CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON. Liz Oakley’s ingenious puppetry enchants throughout the play, as does Christopher Annas-Lee’s gorgeous, grey, misty mountain range backdrop and craggy walls which open to reveal The Trick Hearts rock band.  

What more could you want? High drama, Low comedy, Secret Passions, Smashing music and words to live by: MAKE TEA. SIP SLOW.