Emily Brontë, Anton Chekhov and William Shakespeare are represented by movement, projected images and selections of the esteemed authors’ own words as Wing to the Rooky Wood, presented by Renaissance Now Theatre & Film, takes center stage as part of the New York International Fringe Festival. Three short pieces based upon Wuthering Heights, The Seagull and Macbeth respectively, glide one-by-one out of the shadows and onto the performance space of the Robert Moss Theater. The performers both act and dance before a large screen onto which grainy video is projected. The black-and-white images mostly consist of scraggly, naked tree branches that seem to connect the three pieces together, but they also seem to offer images of Wuthering Heights itself, in addition to real seagulls doing unpleasant things that seagulls must do, as well as Birnam Wood, the iconic forest of Shakespeare’s dark masterpiece. Yet the focus is on the living performers who are front and center.
Wuthering Heights from Memory begins the exploration. Directed and adapted by Royston Coppenger and featuring John Ball, Sophie Gagnon, Eliza Hill and Christian Thiel Titus, it is a perplexing experience. The young performers speak desultory passages from Brontë’s novel in addition to lines from Gone with the Wind, The Heiress, Dirty Harry and other works as they move gracefully about the stage, loving, fighting and dying. As they speak they engage in choreographed interactions with one another, some of which baffled me despite my familiarity with the novel. Perhaps this is an intentional representation of the foggy unreliability of memory.
Next comes an interesting penetration into the relationship between Nina and Konstantin from Anton Chekhov’s heartbreaking classic The Seagull. Ian-Josef Benhardt is the tortured young playwright Konstantin and Alexandra Krieger plays the waiflike young actress Nina; they gracefully dance their painful relationship without any of the other characters or plotlines of the play intruding on their privacy. They speak Chekhov’s lines in free adaptation; in fact the piece is bookended by two renditions of Nina’s symbolist soliloquy from Konstantin’s play-within-a-play, first grand and stagy, then intimate and naturalistic. It is an interesting piece even if it is ultimately cool and not particularly moving.
The stage then roars to life with the artists’ feverish presentation of Macbeth. Three witches, Alexandra Krieger, Sarita Nash and ToniAnne DiFilippo, writhe their entrances and menacingly speak Shakespeare’s lines. Soon afterward they are joined by Michelle Rocco (Hecate, presumably). The quartet meets Macbeth’s massive, sword-wielding army and intense feminine sexuality immediately collides with sweaty, masculine war. The two sides of the stage, female here and male there, meet in a powerful mosaic of startling, sensual imagery enhanced by loud, throbbing music. The swords are literally taken away as violence is soothed by sex.
Much of the play’s plot is explored (if quite truncated and with some important bits left out) through movement and speech, with Triston Howell portraying Macbeth and ToniAnne DiFilippo doubling as Lady Macbeth. One powerful moment that stayed with me was when one of the slain King Duncan’s sons (I was unsure which one) crept into the audience, demanding of them, “Where is Duncan’s body? Where is Duncan’s body?” This re-imagining of Macbeth is highly imaginative and powerfully performed, seeming like a part of a larger project that might be brewing in the imagination of the adaptor and director, Kathy Curtiss. If and when such a production appears, I will definitely want to see it. There is a fine balance in this piece between the acting, the dancing and the imagery both live and recorded. This all-too-brief portion is the highlight of this “highlights from literature”.
Wing to the Rooky Wood is currently playing at the Robert Moss Theater through August 23 as part of the New York International Fringe Festival. For more on FringeNYC productions, click here.
Through August 23 at the Robert Moss Theater at 440 Studios.