“The Green Bird” might be an old play — it was written in 1765 by Carlo Gozzi — but Repertory Theatre Term’s production of it was new, fanciful and just strange enough to keep its audience spellbound for its runtime of nearly three hours.
The play, directed by Professor of Theatre Liz Carlin-Metz, opens with a puppet. “Prince Michael,” operated by junior Hannah Compton and sophomore Missy Preston, is running around a palace refusing to go to bed when his mother (junior Mya Kahler) lures him into a story of a kingdom whose people are terribly confused about love.
Thus, the real story begins, but in many much-needed synopses. A poet (junior Jmaw Moses) recounts to the audience the tale’s origins while a man of the palace (sophomore Oakton Reynolds) translates them: A bitter queen mother, Tartagliona (senior Lena Brandis), disapproved of her son’s (senior Steve Selwa) choice for a wife, Ninetta (senior Rose Dolezal). Tartagliona attempted to frame Ninetta for adultery when she gave birth, replacing her children with puppies and ordering Pantalone, the man of the palace, to dispose of the babies. Unable to do so, Pantalone tells the audience that, instead, he wrapped them in cloths and sent them down the river. Meanwhile, the queen mother buried Ninetta alive beneath the palace.
In the present time of the play, Truffaldino (senior Jonathan Plotnick) and Smeraldina (sophomore Kathleen Guillon), a sausage shop owner and his wife, are literally hitting each other with a large sausage in a debate over the fate of their children, now at an appropriate age to leave the house.
Once Truffaldino has called them bastards and Smeraldina still wails for them to remain at home, the children, Renzo (sophomore Andrew Purvis) and Barbarina (sophomore Emily Passarelli) approach and let their parents know that they will leave calmly. Both assure Smeraldina that she is only upset out of “self-love,” as keeping the children at home fulfills her own desire and makes her happy.
After the children have left their parents’ home, they discuss their objective philosophy, earned by reading the great philosophers, and Renzo firmly states how much greater it is not to be in love.
Unbeknownst to him, Barbarina is in love with a green bird, which she says flutters around her.
In another scene, in another story, Ninetta emerges from her internment still alive. She has been fed by the green bird (junior Chloë Luetkemeyer), who can magically speak. It tells us that it was once a prince until an ogre cast a spell upon it. Before it reveals too much, the green bird flies off.
Next, Renzo and Barbarina find themselves on a beach at the end of the day, hungry, cold and tired, when suddenly, the earth rumbles beneath them, and Calmon (junior John Bird), a “living statue” appears before them. He warns them, and Renzo especially, that doubting everyone and believing only in self-love does more harm than good. He knows from experience: When he was still alive, he was just as Renzo was, but as his heart hardened, so did his body. Calmon then tells the children to throw a pebble at the royal palace — this will make them rich.
There is, of course, a catch. Opposite of self-love on the philosophical spectrum is absolute hedonism: vanity, greed and lust. And apparently the siblings are just as susceptible to these.
What follows is an enchanting collage of singing apples, dancing waters, fairies, lions, tigers and more “living statues.” There is adventure, the same physical humor from the play’s early scenes, and debates of love, greed and philosophy that interlace the two ongoing stories.
The old Italian mysticism of the play is enhanced by a number of modern technological advances, including newly built trap doors and an effective use of smoke machines (in spite of a few coughs from the audience).
One of the greater successes of the play was its costuming, designed by senior Franzesca Mayer. This nearly made up for the lacking set design, which was, indeed, the only thing lacking. The use of what appeared to be Powerpoint images helped set each scene, but more physical elements would have aided the audience’s navigation through the various plotlines of the story within a story.
But a costume is nothing without a character to fill it. Each was convincing, with Luetkemeyer embodying the very essence of a bird, Passarelli taking on the haughty tone of vanity and Brandis becoming deliciously evil.
The play ends on a high note as the two main stories are tied together and the audience finally learns just how magical the green bird is. In keeping with the tradition of a classic comedy, the final scene includes a happy wedding and a happier sing-along by the entire cast.
Ultimately, Repertory Theatre Term’s production of “The Green Bird” is fun, strange and has just enough song to make any audience member smile.
Note: John Bird is a reporter for TKS.