There is a great deal of myth in and around "the bedtime story." The stories themselves are often fables or fairy tales, but the surrounding situation of the storytelling is also deeply rooted in American cultural mythology. Personally, I think this is because these are some of our first experiences of imaginatively engaging with a narrative. Later on, when we can read, we might try to recreate the effortless creativity that we experienced when a great storyteller had us in his or her capable hands.
All of these thoughts came to mind as I watched the master storytellers of the National Theater of the United States of America's in their production of Normandy Raven Sherwood's The Golden Veil. From the moment you enter the theatre's misty atmosphere until the final strains of haunting music fade from the air, this production combines talented performers, an impressive variety of performance genres, and creative staging to make a piece of theatre that entertains like the best kind of bedtime story.
First of all, I would like to say that the things that make this production so exciting are also the hardest things to explain in this kind of review. This piece paradoxically has an impressively structured plot and seemingly no plot at all. The scenes vary incredibly from one to next, with major changes in genre, tone, and approach. Though it might sound chaotic, it certainly does not appear so in performance.
There are several interconnected stories, but the main one concerns a poor shepherdess who marries a bourgeois inventor. The rest of the plots relate to various aspects of this tale as they riff on themes such as women protecting their chastity, wronged women seeking revenge, and the rich romanticizing the lives of the poor.
The Golden Veil's circular narrative movement results in something that I would describe as an expressionistic approach, though it obviously owes a great debt to everything from vaudeville and the Punch-and-Judy shows to the kind of projector work seen in Wooster Group shows. I say expressionistic because it often moved in an abstract, mood-based way rather than by linear narrative. For example, the many songs, composed by Jesse Hawley, who also plays the Shepherdess, do not directly give information about the characters in any of the stories, yet they do a great deal to add to the emotion of particular moments.
Hawley, along with fellow actors Maggie Robinson, Ean Sheehy, Matt Kalman are all talented singers, dancers, actors, and storytellers. Hawley and Sheehy play various iterations of lovers throughout the piece and their expressive faces, excellent timing, and overall range are apparent. Robinson and Kalman serve as guides (they have a particularly marvelous scene where they tell a story through the manipulation of some common food objects), though they also showcase their talents by stepping into the action as well. The entire ensemble is backed by equally talented musicians Nick Demopoulos, Jeremy Wilms, Catherine McRae, and James Stanley who add to the perfection of the aural atmosphere.
The visual atmosphere is pretty perfect as well. Creative staging like this is one of the things I love most about watching live theatre. There is something terribly exciting to me about watching an ordinary or deceptively simple object take on a whole new life. Hawley, Stanley, and Sherwood have all collaborated on the scenic design, which explains why it is so cleanly functional while being so aesthetically interesting and exciting. From the simple window-shade projector screen to the moving box set, the scenic and prop designs helped the actors as opposed to hinder them and furthered the experience of the play itself.
I walked out of The Kitchen with a smile on my face, happy with the innovative and exciting story that I had just witnessed. I could not tell you what every individual scene or moment meant, but far from being disturbing, this means that there was a great deal of food for thought. The Golden Veil will push you while thoroughly entertaining you, and you'll be smiling while you wonder what lies behind the NTUSA's veiled references.