Saturday, November 19, 2011

"The Soldier's Tale" ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG

When you say Igor Stravinsky you are talking about one of the musical giants of the 20th Century. Stravinsky wrote the music for "The Soldier's Tale" in 1918, as soldiers across Europe were wandering home to villages whose lives had been changed forever. Stravinsky was broke, since the Russian Revolution had removed his royal patronage and large productions were no longer financially feasible. "The Soldier's Tale," written with Swiss librettist C.F. Ramuz, was meant to be a small, traveling show that could be taken around the continent. Meant to reach large audiences, it is a simple story of a soldier who sells his soul to the devil -- in this case, the trade is his violin for her book of economic prognostications.

Played by the quartet Earplay, led by Mary Chun, Stravinsky's score is rhythmically complex and modernistic. It could have been written today. Or tomorrow. The acting is excellent as well. Narrator L. Peter Callender, Devil Joan Mankin and, especially, Puppeteer, Daughter of the King and co- Director of the show Muriel Maffre, bring this fable to life.


If there is one complaint, it is that the translation of Ramuz's book, by Donald Pippin, in the hands of co-directors Maffre and Tom Ross, make our narrator sound like he is speaking to small children. Perhaps the story did not feel simplistic in 1918, or in its original French. But in 2011 this may be an issue.

The story is intriguing, the acting off-beat and excellent and Stravinsky's music brings it to another level. Do not believe the advertising: there is nothing remotely anti-war about this production. It is the story of a puppet and his unsuccessful struggle against his Devil. There are no conclusions offered nor any to be gathered.

"The Soldier's Tale" feels like a Christmas show and what do you know: it runs through December 18. All ages will love it, including children perhaps ten and older. There are no bad seats at the Aurora.

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "The Soldier's Tale" Three Stars with a BANGLE of PRAISE. In truth, you go to hear Earplay (piano, percussion, violin, clarinet) perform this wonderful music. The story is secondary to the music -- perhaps this is the way Stravinsky meant it to be.

"The Soldier's Tale"
The Aurora Theatre
2081 Addison Street, Berkeley
Through Dec. 18

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