Saturday, April 11, 2015

Theater: Oscar Wilde's "The Fisherman And His Soul" Playing Now Through April 25 (Idaho)

The Fisherman and His Soul by Simone Rein
Boise Contemporary Theater are bringing to life an Oscar Wilde fairy tale that used to be much better known when I was a girl. The Fisherman and His Soul was one of those stories teachers interested in the classics, used to use in education, but it's been many, many years since I've seen any reference to it anywhere, apart from the odd art work here and there.

One of the great things about contemporary theater is the ability to try unconventional staging, mix up the media and, be bold in trying new approaches to old stories.

Artist unknown
The pictures you generally see for this fairy tale tend to focus on the man and the mermaid, the romance, and a somewhat sad and dark atmosphere (I've added a variety of atypical illustrations for the post on purpose). Boise Theater's adaptation appears to mix that right up. 

But before I show you their promo video, let me bring you up to speed if you're not familiar with the tale.

I'll start with the press introduction by the troupe, which seems to either expect you to know the story, or to completely surprise you by what's coming:
The Fisherman and His Soul  
Music/Shadows/Magic  (FTNH edit: take note! Shadows! Magic! This should be quite interesting...)
by Michael Baltzell and Michael Hartwell adapted from Oscar Wilde
“Every evening the young Fisherman went out upon the sea, and threw his nets into the water.” So begins the 1891 fairy tale by Oscar Wilde that will come to life on the BCT stage in the spring of 2015. What the fisherman finds in his net will get your imagination whirling: “But no fish at all was in it, nor any monster or thing of horror, but only a little Mermaid lying fast asleep.”
So, very briefly: Fisherman catches mermaid. Fisherman proposes. Mermaid says "No. You have a soul. Get rid of it. Then, I can love you." (Fisherfolk have no souls.) Fisherman learns shadows are really Souls. Fisherman cuts off his shadow. Mermaid says "yes". Soul sent away, into the world. Soul has no heart. Soul scours world; looks for ways to lure Fisherman back out of the sea... 

(You can read the whole fascinating tale HERE. Just be prepared to take a few minutes - it's not a super-quick read.)

Now that the scene is set, take a look at the promo video. It may not be quite what you expect:
To pick up from there I'll switch to a review from BoiseWeekly:
The play is visually marvelous. In the first act, the mermaid is bedecked in LED lights and crashing waves are simulated with a lightweight sheet and a high-powered fan. However, the practical effects are a sorbet for the lighting effects dominating the second act when the fisherman's soul recounts adventures of strong-arming kings, dueling imperial guards and stealing precious treasure in elaborate shadow plays that make his tall tales larger than life. 
Based on a story by Oscar Wilde, Fisherman maintains a firm grasp on weighty ideas. Wilde, who studied Greek and Roman antiquity at Oxford, was familiar with divisions of the soul and hierarchy of desires: Without a heart to guide him, the fisherman's soul appeases its basest appetites with terrible consequences. "Love," the fisherman tells his soul, "is better" than all the wisdom and riches in the world. 
... Fisherman turns a simple story into a visually and audibly vibrant spectacle sure to lure in audiences. 
(You can read the full BoiseWeekly review of the show HERE.)

The Fisherman and His Soul IV by Germano Ovani (part of a narrative series of 4)
And an additional quick summary, to include some insight into the presentation from IdahoStatesman:
"The Fisherman and His Soul" will offer a bounty of Victorian theatrical devices and storytelling motifs, such as shadow puppetry, physical theater, burlesque arts and live musical performance. They based the play on Oscar Wilde's short story about a fisherman who catches a mermaid in his net, then must choose between his love for her and his own soul.

Read more here:
Oh yes! I was extremely happy to find (with a little extra digging) that they were using shadow play inspired by Wayang, traditional Indonesian shadow puppetry. I grew up regularly exposed to Balinese shadow puppetry, which is very similar, and close to my heart, so was very glad to see this! It's the perfect medium for this fairy tale.

If you'd like to go, here are the details:
The Fisherman and His Soul @ Boise Contemporary Theater
  • Wednesdays-Fridays, 8 p.m. and Saturdays, 2 & 8 p.m. Continues through April 25 $26-$32

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