Figures in bright, flowing fabrics approach the middle of nowhere over a desert’s sand dunes, singing and drumming, accompanied by a huge green creature. This creature, in the new play “Caravan of Dreams,” is represented by a large puppet.
But the desert sand dunes are the real thing.
Well, technically they’re glacial silt: In a coup of site-specific Maine theater so stunning that I’m astounded it’s never been done before, Ziggurat Theatre Ensemble stages the world premiere of the beautifully hallucinatory “Caravan of Dreams” al fresco in the sand dunes of the Desert of Maine.
Perhaps, like me, you’ve grown up in this state, yet have somehow never gotten around to visiting Freeport’s strange landscape. If so, Ziggurat’s production offers an especially heady first glimpse.
Written and directed by Stephen Legawiec, and produced in association with the Desert of Maine Center for Arts and Ecology, “Caravan of Dreams” draws the epic and the timeless from these ancient sands. It’s a mythic fantasia of a show, with ravishing costumes, haunting songs, delicious comedic bits, and a message for the ages about the power of art, words, and common vision.
The group that approaches through the desert includes a clownish Jailer in rainbows and pink (a rollicking, Cockney-accented Jake Cote), his sleepy Shantarax creature (manipulated adorably by Elise Voigt), the severe Driver (Clay Hawks) who has hired them, and their captive, Kalinda (the fervent Mel Angelo) – a young woman in gold and green whose beloved home city has been surrounded by an invading army.
Kalinda has been hauled to the middle of nowhere to meet an ominous personage known as The Xizan (Seth Rigoletti). But as she and her captors wait for him, everyone is surprised when a man in a colorfully frond-laden top hat stumbles along out of nowhere and does a face plant in their vicinity.
This is The Dream Peddler (Andrew Elijah Edwards), who conjures mesmerizingly staged visions: A princess in a glimmering fishing-net dress (Laura MacLean) undulates as she explores an underwater realm, a general’s daughter in brocade blue (Lyra Legawiec) is imprisoned in ice, and an empress in white (Savannah Irish) moves through a strange land receiving a secret symbol.
The very impressed Jailer gives The Dream Peddler’s spectacle “a six out of five.” More importantly, The Dream Peddler’s dream-conjuring will prove handy in Kalinda’s struggle once the villainous Xizan arrives in his raptor helmet and villainously aubergine fur trim.
Ziggurat has long-held devotion to the archetypal, in shows that mingle the mythic with the commedia dell’arte tradition, and “Caravan of Dreams” represents a quintessence of this aesthetic, with primal imagery, gorgeous costuming (by Anne Collins), entrancing movement (directed by Dana Legawiec), and fun physical comedy.
Messages are delivered by Sand Bat puppets, maneuvered over the dunes on tall poles. Kalinda tumbles in the sand trying to wake the snoring Shantarax; hilarious vocal business ensues as the Jailer tries and fails to imitate the call of a Sand Dragon. Dangerously hypnotic “Wanderers” approach over the dunes, stepping and chanting in time, all wearing green blindfolds. And the pacing of all this is spacious, giving us time to take in the abundantly strange beauty.
Everything about “Caravan of Dreams” is sublimely revivifying. The prismatic characters are bewitching against the cinematically deep backdrop of the dunes under the evening sky. Angelo’s fine Kalinda has the bright, green-gold spirit of the archetypal hero. The ancient glacial silt is pale gold and velvety between the toes. And the show’s message is timeless and crucial: that tyranny can be bested through the power of art and communion.
Ziggurat’s dazzling reminder rouses both the senses and the heart.
Megan Grumbling is a writer, editor, and teacher who lives in Portland. Find her at megangrumbling.com.
PortFringe is back
From June 13-18, 25 edgy, strange, and/or experimental performance works will be vividly inhabiting venues around East Bayside. See New York actor and writer Heather Massie’s show about scientist/actress Hedy Lamarr (“Hedy! The Life and Inventions of Hedy Lamarr”). Or Portland Poet Laureate Maya Williams’ spoken-word performance about grief and family (“Loving Your Family Hurts”). Or even the Tibbets Group’s adaptation of a sci-fi utopian political tract that was written from a Russian prison and that will be performed by clowns (“What is to be Done?”). Other Fringe subjects will include dinosaurs, abortion, a Windows 95 relaunch, a talking clam, and pro wrestlers with increasingly unreliable personas. There will be late-night shows and music. Drinks and food trucks will be on hand. All of which is to say: PortFringe has what you need. FMI: http://portfringe.com/.
Maine theater lost a remarkable artist and human when actor, playwright, and minister David Butler died last week after a long struggle with cancer. In shows with Mad Horse, Fenix, AIRE, and other companies, on and offstage, David’s presence was always rich in empathy, wisdom, and ebullience. All who saw him act or knew his great, booming laugh are the better for having had David in the world. We will miss him.
— Megan Grumbling