The Hunting of the Snark
It’s the audience that’s captured in this brilliantly gleeful ‘Hunt’
|Strawdog Theatre presents|
|The Hunting of the Snark|
Review by Joy Campbell
“The Hunting of The Snark (An Agony in 8 Fits)” is a nonsense poem written by Lewis Carroll in 1874. Like Carroll’s most famous poem, “Jabberwocky,” “Snark” depicts a quest for a fabulous beast, although its length and many characters make it known more as Carroll’s epic nonsense poem. The plot is this: 10 characters (Banker, Barrister, Baker, Bonnets, Beaver, Butcher, Boots, Bard, Billiard-maker, Broker) are led by the Bellman on a seafaring journey to a new land that appears propitious for hunting the mythical Snark. Their story is told in 8 “fits” or scenes, each focusing on a stage of the story or a character or two. (Think “The Canturbury Tales,” but sillier.) Much has been made by those seeking deep symbolic meaning in the poem, claiming it has social, historical, and/or political undertones; the concept employed by Strawdog and director Josh Sobel is simply to take the poem at face value and leverage its natural potential for imaginative staging.
In the hands of this very talented team, this approach shines. Strawdog’s The Hunting of the Snark is a jaw-droppingly creative piece of stagecraft, that most magical kind of theater that envelops us in artifice through a stupefyingly adept use of simple props, physicalization, and pure energy. Each character is unique and superbly played, but it is as an ensemble that this group has you in its hands. From the gleefully raucous opening and breathtaking pantomime of a sea journey to a conjuring of hills, this group is so tight under Aileen McGroddy’s movement design that you wonder whether the casting notice stipulated telepaths only. The intimate performance area makes the fun all the more contagious. Watching the characters swarm, march, explore, scale hills, face Jub-Jub Birds and fight a gloriously conjured Bandersnatch is like watching a drama school for gifted kids at recess.
Touches of music from Styx to Strauss are artfully employed under the musical direction of Leah Tirado, and in “Fit the Second – The Bellman’s Speech”, a brilliant, brief educational film designed by Michelle Underwood accompanies the Bellman’s Ahab-like description of how to identify a Snark. As The Bellman, Michael Mercier knows how to imbue a desk bell with all the emotion of a violin, and narrator Errol McLendon’s rough, smoky voice lends just the right note of gravity to balance the whimsy.
At roughly 50 minutes, the show is not overly long, but its mesmerizing, non-stop adrenaline rush will leave you well satisfied. Be there, or be a boojum.
The Hunting of the Snark continues through May 28th at Hugen Hall, Strawdog Theatre, 3829 N. Broadway (map), with performances Sundays-Tuesdays at 8pm (May 20-21, 9pm). Tickets are $15, and are available by phone (866-811-4111) or online through OvationTix.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at Strawdog.org. (Running time: 50 minutes without intermission)
Photos by Kyle Hamman
Andrew Bailes (Baner), Emily Gann (Barrister), Sarah Rose Graber (Baker), Kaitlyn Majoy (Bonnets), Errol McLendon (Narrator), Julia Meese (Beaver), Michael Mercier (Bellman), Casey Pilkenton (Butcher), Ed Porter (Boots), Alexis Randolph (Bard), Christian Stokes (Billiard-maker), Suzanna Ziko (Broker)
behind the scenes
Josh Sobel (director), Michelle Underwood (projection design), Gregor Mortis (sound design), Nic Diamond (set design), Jeffrey Glass (lighting design), Joanna Melville (costume design), Aileen McGroddy (movement director), Leah Tirado (music director), Kelsey Rhiann Shipley (assistant stage manager), Alex Huntsberger (dramaturg, asst. director), John Henry Roberts (graphic design), Morgan Gire (production manager), Kyle Hamman (photos)