DECEMBER 13, 2018 – “Tikkun Olam feels so central to my life as a Jew,” said Jason Slavick, the former Gann Academy Arts Department chair and artistic director for the local troupe Liars and Believers. Now, Slavick has turned that passion for improving and repairing the world into an experimental piece that combines storytelling, an original score, masks, and puppetry called “A Story Beyond: A Musical Fable.” Slavick has written and directed a piece that, while lively, spirited, and well-performed, could nevertheless use some tweaking.
“It means going beyond ourselves,” said Slavick of the play’s title. “The central theme is empathy. We are living in a wounded, fractured time. To heal our country, we’re going to have to relearn how to go beyond ourselves and have compassion for other people.” Slavick feels a play about Tikkun Olam is especially relevant in the current political climate.
“After the 2016 election, the national environment was so toxic,” said Slavick. “It’s not about Trump at all. It’s about sections of our society screaming at each other.”
Slavick and company turned the story into a fable, a form of narrative which Slavick referred to as “simple archetype stories,” in order to depict the steps necessary to resolving conflict. “A Story Beyond” makes use of meteorological methapors. Maya, the activist protagonist, wants to save her village from an ominous dark cloud and ever worsening weather. The ominous dark cloud is likely a metaphor for pollution, while the references to “changing weather” likely refer to climate change. Throughout the fable, the sun and the cloud represent humans’ conflicting impulses to fight for good or to do nothing.
Along the way, Slavick and his troupe enrich the fable with iconic images, like a storyteller whose narratives keep her alive (Scheherazade and the Tales of the Arabian Nights come to mind) and the Firebird (think of Russian folklore). The sudden storyline about a princess named Vasilisa Visilyeva is a bit confusing, but the production’s projected text helps. Humorous asides, like a vegan bear who loves nuts, sweeten the experience at Boston Center for the Arts’ appealingly intimate black box theater.
Though the script can be overly busy, “A Story Beyond” possesses many assets common to gifted counterpart troupe Imaginary Beasts. Look for high energy, great agility and sharply phrased text and vocals from ensemble quartet Rachel Wiese, Jesse Garlick, Rosie McInnes, and Aislinn Brophy. Jeff Butcher on mandolin and Bri Tagliaferro on cello do full justice to composer Nathan Leigh’s evocative score (“He’s writing the music his grandparents would have written,” Slavick noted). High marks also go to scenic designer Rebecca Lehrhoff for a vivid troubadours’ traveling wagon, Kendra Bell’s period costumes, and especially Faye Dupras’ distinctive puppetry design and PJ Strachman’s smarty modulated lighting.
Slavick speaks of this effort “going beyond storytelling.” This experimental showcase may need honing, but Liars and Believers are a worthy troupe, and “A Step Beyond” is a timely exploration.
“A Story Beyond: A Musical Fable” will play at the Plaza Black Box Theatre, Boston Center for the Arts, through Dec. 22. Visit bostontheatrescene.com or call 617-933-8600. Pay what you can.