The Red Beads is an interesting production from Mabou Mines; the script was adapted by the company's leader, Lee Breuer, from a Russian folk story. It's a gothic tale about a girl who demands her mother's red beads on her thirteenth birthday; it's brimming with anima and Electra complexity.
The piece combines dialogue, choral and solo singing, a sort of living puppetry, and stunning minimalist imagery. It's performed on a bare black stage. White fabric of all sizes serves to represent things, moods, thoughts - animated with electric fans. The director's notes call it "wind puppetry", and it's designed by the renowned puppet master Basil Twist. A white cloth - perhaps eight feet by four feet - is kept airborn by two puppeteers crossing the stage with large electric fans. A huge white cloth - on the floor of the stage and covering it all - is fanned from below so that it has the motion of a turbulent sea. An actor relates to the waves quite literally, and flails around the swells like a balloon tossed around in a children's game. Aside from the black and white, there's the occasional splash of red - particularly in a set of thirteen red Japanese lanterns that float down the stage space.
The actors themselves often float across the stage, suspended from the flies. The long white train of the girl's gown (nightgown? wedding dress?) flows behind her in the air, blown about from the fans. It's beautiful - but it reminds us too much of other things we've seen that are cliches.
The production uses some wonderful techniques: At times blacked puppeteers appear to manipulate the actress - a reference to Japan's Banraku puppetry. Sometimes the actress speaks a line, and a singer echoes it - the perfect aural metaphor for the subconscious.
The second scene (of three) ends with music very much like classic Noh music, and very much like the sounds of nature we might hear in a disturbing dream. The actress dances a sharp, angular dance, guided by the puppeteers. We're glad to see angular movement; the billowing white has become tiresome.
Nonetheless, it's wonderful to see actors freed from the stage floor. The empty space is just that - three-dimensional space, and this production has a welcome spatial freedom.
- Steve Capra