Every once in a while, there is a work of theater that is remarkable in some way: thrilling, touching, unforgettable. More infrequently than even that, on the rarest of rare moments, there is a production that is not only somehow remarkable but also pure art, a representation of what theater can (and perhaps should) be. I Fiorretti in Musica – Opera in Danza presented by Pioneers go East Company is one such work. In its sheer simplicity, it is utter genius. The play tells the story of Saint Francis, divided into four chapters: “Assuming a Life of Simplicity,” “Preaching to the Birds,” “Taming the Wolf,” and “Thieves and Beggars.” Yet any attempt at summarizing would not even remotely approximate what this production actually is. The story being told – one of self-sacrifice, forgiveness, and faith – would be compelling in its own right. This play, however, rather than being a traditional theatrical narrative, is an exploration of the various elements that can combine in the theater. The piece incorporates music, dance, painting, poetry, puppetry, and junk sculpture, emphasizing just how integrative of an art form theater can be.
The storytelling elements are isolated from one another; no character who sings also performs in the central action. Rather, the various components seem strategically layered one upon another. This technique adds a unique richness to the piece while also highlighting how limited traditional storytelling may, in fact, be. All of the pieces of the theatrical puzzle compliment each other beautifully, from the way light reflects off of costumes to how the music pairs with the dance movements.
There are truly memorable, striking moments in this play. In the first chapter, the ensemble surrounding Francesco pelt shoes at him, cruelly and maliciously. Yet Francesco engages them in a game, forgiving them instantly and offering to them the chance to follow him. This moment is touching and profoundly human. Each of these episodes is punctuated with paintings projected onto the backdrop and poetic text describing what is happening in the scene. These elements add to the richness of the overall work. Although any individual component would tell a certain aspect of the tale, by bringing them all together, the story is rendered in a multifaceted manner that no single element could present.
Life appears to spring forth in this performance. The random trash and scraps of paper that are assembled to create a slew of birds seem to come alive through the careful choreography of the puppeteers' motions. The set is evocative, showing ways in which mundane detritus can become the most magical of playlands. The use of everyday household objects to create the world of the story goes beyond the merely clever. At times, it is so well-conceived that it borders on the astonishing.
This is a special work of theater. It takes a heartfelt tale and presents it in new and innovative ways. There are moments within this performance that will linger long after the house lights come on. Perhaps, these moments will stick with the viewer for a long time to come. For this reason, I Fioretti in Musica is a production not to be missed.