Transient Theatre

A good story is a powerful thing. Well told, it can lift us out of depression, take us to a new, mysterious world, teach us something about ourselves, even cure us of our ills for a time. In 1001 Nights, Scheherazade saved her life by telling stories to the king. These days the folktale has come back into favor, with the help of such writers as Italo Calvino and Jorge Luis Borges.

Perhaps inspired by Calvino’s fantastic collection of Italian folktales, Transient Theatre brings us Truth in the Telling, six Italian tales linked by a new one. Ranging from light and humorous to dark and terrifying, they provide an entertaining and magical world and tell us once again how important a story can be.

Framing Derek Werner’s adaptations is a princess in the Land of Tedium who is bored and depressed. Her father, the king, tries to raise her spirits by enlisting a series of storytellers. There is El Mumbo, a pompous goofball who tells her the instructive story of the “Happy Man’s Shirt,” about a king who seeks happiness for his son. There is Neon Creon, a hippie LA storyteller who relates how Saint Anthony tricked the denizens of hell into giving him fire to warm his followers. Toward the end of the first act we meet Hans Unsine, a car mechanic who tells a familiar story of three sons who acquire three magical gifts to aid an ailing princess. Hans’s story lifts the spirits of the princess of Tedium, and the two fall madly into each other’s arms–just as the king storms in. He banishes Hans to the moon where, in act two, Hans must use the magical powers of folktale characters in order to return to earth and his princess.

With the stakes raised in the second act, a much darker set of folktales comes into play. Three crones trick a young king into marrying an old hag. “Land Where One Never Dies” addresses the inevitability and necessity of death. Last comes a religious tale, “Child That Fed the Crucifix,” that pits Hans’s story-telling abilities against those of a certain Mr. Smith, also known as Death. They fight a story-telling battle for the life of the princess.

Truth in the Telling is aided tremendously by magnificent production values of the sort rarely seen in storefront theaters. The sets, music, costumes, and special effects are uniformly excellent. The performers are also quite good. Suzanne Carney and Ted Slabach as the princess and king perform admirably, as do Eva Varros and Marti Szalai in a wide variety of roles.

Most effective about this production is that it concentrates our attention fully on the stories themselves, and the occasional weak performance does not detract from the whole. Bill Mann has directed with uncommon intelligence and grace, and though Werner’s adaptation occasionally lapses into trite jokes in the style of “Fractured Fairy Tales,” it remains well paced and engaging. Above all Truth in the Telling succeeds as a celebration of imagination and the power of story telling.