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Open: 11/05/09- Close: 11/22/09 Granada
Reviewed for By: Jennifer Rathbone

     Inspired by Gertrude Stein and the contemporary aesthetics of her 20th Century Paris Salon, Polybe + Seats is establishing itself in experimental theater. Their recent collaboration, Granada, written by Avi Glickstein and directed by Jessica Brater, is a culmination of artistic composition, creative writing, and sensationalized expression of language and movement. Arousing visceral connections to historical events and cultures, Polybe + Seats adeptly ventures into explorations of identity. Ladino culture provides an intriguing medium for a company developing their voice through storytelling, ritual, and fantasy.

On the journey to self-discovery, we’re introduced into the expressionist world of the play through chanting music; candlelight; a forced perspective of windowed flats, which serve as an extension of the existing architectural environment; and a mysterious floating letter. Throughout the compelling play, realistic conversations are injected with recounted tales of Ladino lore and the linear plot structure is effectively fragmented with absurd scenes and characters exposing truths. With the seamless transition of the window painted flats into a decoratively wallpapered room, we are thrust into the Spanish Palace in 1992, where an anniversary celebration welcoming back the Jews to Spain is in progress. Spain’s Prince and a young Egyptian woman, chosen to represent the exiled Jewish people, recall the Spanish Inquisition and The Golden Age of Spain where, in 1492, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella issued the “Edict of the Expulsion of Jews” from Granada. In a Baroque style dance with oversized puppet hands and exaggerated Tudor costumes, the historic moment is re-enacted, as the young Egyptian woman reveals the pain and suffering that the event has caused to the Ladino community. She exposes herself as the resurrected Moses Maimonides and a prophet of the Messianic Age. The young woman unveils the conflict: in 20 days, the Prince must present an apology to the Jews for 500 years of torment or face the consequences.

The path to forgiveness is wrought with adventure. The Prince escapes into the Spanish wilderness with his aide-de-camp, Djoha, only to discover a world of mysterious fantasy. They encounter a Bear, a Princess in a grapefruit, and a bejeweled tree in their short time outside of the castle walls. Nothing is exactly what it seems and as the Prince tries to find his way back home, we also follow the flight of the letter from Ladino window, to a US Tourist, back to the window. Avi Glickstein has employed symbols and stories throughout Granada in order to bring to light the elements of tradition and ritual that are deeply routed in Jewish culture. Through a sense of humor, as in the “Rituals with Goat” scenes and the character of Bear, who winds her way in and out of the plot and regurgitates gold coins, Glicktein has crafted an abstract drama that primitively connects the audience to feelings and sensations through waves of visual and auditory content.

The ensemble cast expertly weaves the tale of the search for understanding of tradition. Elaine O’Brien cleverly plays multiple roles from La Gestora, to a naïve US Tourist, to a comedic Goat. Sarah Sakaan, as the Young Woman, elicits a sympathetic response, as the sincere ingénue. Indika Senanayake*, as Djoha, plays the fool with prowess and dexterity: balancing on the Young Woman and the Prince’s backs at points and other times, restricting her composure to appear poised and regal, as the servant in the castle. She invents a feisty, impish character with trickster tendencies, but a good natured heart, that one can’t help but be enraptured in her escapades. Lindsay Torrey* skillfully conceives The Bear as a dancing, playful creature. Jill Usdan rolls free from her grapefruit home, as The Princess. She portrays the naïve, but noble girl with a boisterous spirit. And Ari Vigoda maneuvers the stage and dialogue convincingly as the youthful Prince of Spain.

Congratulations go to the director, Jessica Brater, and to the designers for constructing the atmospheric Ladino world of Granada. Set/Costumes by Peiyi Wong and assisted by Bevan Dunbar consist of faux window treatments on flats that whirl around to reshape the stage space, as other electrified furniture pieces and props appear. Lighting by Natalie Robin, assisted by Marika Kent, effectively utilizes non-theatrical lighting techniques and lots of practicals to fashion an environment and mood out of floodlights, lanterns, candles, and a few simple electrical cables. Sound Design by John D. Ivy successfully incorporates cultural music by Anna Levenstein with sound effects to fashion the essence of the Jewish-Spanish world. Dramaturgy was provided by Miriam Felton-Dansky and traditional Judeo-Espanol songs performed hauntingly by Chatham Baroque with Danny Mallon and Anna Levenstein.

Polybe + Seats launches Granada in a storytelling tour-de-force that sets the foundation for their future collaborative work to come. This cultural explosion of artistic expression juxtaposes their values of tradition and folklore with their knowledge of theatrical composition and performance. I anticipate more intriguing experimental work to evolve from this company and look forward to the journey with them.

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