by Claire Moodey · July 12, 2014
Feather Gatherers, presented byThe Drunkard’s Wife, is a tour de force by Normandy Sherwood and Craig Flanagin. Together the two are responsible for a complex and well-woven tapestry of script, music, direction, sets, and costumes. No small feat with a play featuring a conductor, band of seven, and eleven performers (one of whom just finished Kindergarten). Set in a fictional 1960s Serbia, Feather Gatherers is based in part on the Russian folktale “The Soldier and the Devil” and Stravinsky’s setting of the same. The performances are beautifully choreographed (the choreography by Allison Plamondon is well worth seeing) and retains the sometimes camp “hamminess” of vaudeville and folk tale.
As the audience was seated, in what was a convivial house on opening night full of friendly faces from the downtown scene, a man is onstage playing records. The set of hung fabric recalls tents and tapestries of Eastern Europe. When the record player leaves and the play begins, we are greeted by The Narrator (played expertly by Ean Sheehy with whom I had the pleasure of filming a project for a weekend this summer). He begins, “Enter the devil, dressed as the devil,” and we see The Devil (the mesmerizing Juliana Francis Kelly) dressed as the Devil. The audience laughed. This moment extends as The Narrator points out the Devil’s features and attitudes in a series of postures. With this first scene, Sherwood had me on board. It’s stylized theatricality unique to live storytelling and yet cinematic quality (perhaps influenced by Yugoslavian Black Wave film, with which I am not familiar) thrilled me. This mix was indicative of a quality the whole production evinced: a bunch of things put together in a slightly off way that at once engaged my curiosity and charmed.
The evening is filled with songs, dancing, face paint, anachronistic footwear, humorous props, radical narrative interventions, and lessons interjected by the ever endearing ghostly Edgar Oliver, who as The Audience is eventually onstage and interfering with the telling of old tales. The play takes its title not from “The Soldier and the Devil,” but from an alternative angle, The Orphan (the talented Admiral Grey), a lucky duck, a Feather Gatherer who “prized her way into this story” and leads us to its ecstatic conclusion. From the nerve-wracking dancing of The Urchin (Nikki Calonge) and The Dancer (Tavish Miller), to the escapades of the dumb bunny Soldier (Jess Barbagallo) and the seductive three-fingered Devil, I was eager. And I wasn’t alone. The feel-good moral of the tale provides a reminder that nothing lasts forever and that’s OK. By the end of the curtain call, the conductor had stopped conducting, but the band fugued on to the rhythmic clapping of the audience.
While not entirely swayed to begin a search for orgone energy in an intentional community, I would recommend seeing this strong piece in the summer season’s offering. There isn’t a weak link in the star-studded cast and band and as the gentleman who was seated beside me told his friend after the performance, “I found it very welcoming.”