Freedom to believe what you wish to believe is the strong theme of Diablomundo's whimsical Argentine piece, "Memories, Dreams and Illusions," playing at Theatre Project through June 16.
Although charming and amusing, this work by the five-member group from Buenos Aires has significant dark undertones. Using drums and symbols as instruments, the actors offer a high-spirited performance.
Drawing on the Italian commedia dell'arte technique, the company combines superb puppetry, Spanish and African rhythms and South American culture to illustrate and emphasize the power of dreams, truth and memories.
Much of the dialogue is in Spanish but there is enough English thrown in to get the intent across. The group's excellent &L collective body movement is a universal language.
The hour-long (but too short) work presents four stories centering on Fenelon, a wistful Pierrot-type clown poignantly trying to find meaning in his life. A grotesque elephant-faced creature, Severe Perfect Failure, is a constant nemesis foiling the clown's attempts to find himself.
To accomplish this end, Fenelon must search out his past. Three episodes involving his ancestors' struggles for free thought eventually gives the little clown his strength and purpose.
The characters are depicted by larger than life puppets. The wonderfully molded faces are gaunt and grim with big sad eyes.
In the first story we meet Fenelon's father, a happy salesman of "dreams and illusions." As a passenger on a bus (and against hostile police authority) he turns around the dreary lives of the pale, downtrodden riders by teaching them to have faith in their own visions.
The second tale revolves around Fenelon's grandfather, one of a trio of actors who daringly perform a slapstick skit in protest against over-taxation by a fascist regime.
The third skit is a somber one. Set in the Dark Ages, Fenelon's great-grandfather is a wizard in the court of the cruel Queen Margaret. A man ahead of his time, he courageously holds fast to the belief that the world is round while the queen and her pernicious followers insist the world is square.
This is a particularly moving scene as the hunched figure with his great hangdog face is executed for his convictions.
Back to the present Fenelon must battle the devious Severe Perfect Failure in a final, dangerous confrontation. The clown calls upon the lessons his antecedents taught him to overthrow this emissary of evil.
The troupe -- Marcello Frasca, Miriam Gonzalez, Ibis Perla Logarzo, Carlos Uriona and Roberto Uriona -- create a series of fantastic characters. The script seems a bit too simplistic for adult audiences but the actors' craftsmanship is undeniable and the production totally entertaining.
Worth mentioning . . .
A rousing production of the musical Irish fantasy and social satire, "Finian's Rainbow," is on stage at the Harlequin Dinner Theatre through July 7. Directed by Sue Lawless, the play tells of a native Irishman who comes to America with a pot of gold stolen from the leprechauns. Outstanding are Jesse Foreman, Buddy Piccolino and Angel Caban.
The Jewish Repertory Theatre is concluding the Maryland premiere of Ira Levin's "Cantorial" Saturday and Sunday at the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation. Directed unevenly by Mitch Nathan this unique comedy-mystery concerns a young couple who move into a condo in a former synagogue and are haunted by the singing of a dead cantor. In this very slow-paced production the fine voice of the cantor (Cantor Sam Weiss) seems too loud.
Characters and motivations here are not properly developed. But Tom Blair does well as a man seeking his roots and Barney Cohen delights as his old world friend.