'Kingfisher's Wing' tells the Baha'i story

February 04, 1994|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,Sun Theater Critic

About a block south of the theater where the large-scale musical "Jesus Christ Superstar" is telling its splashy, rock music version of the birth of Christianity, the Theatre Project is presenting a much smaller-scale version of the birth of another religion, the Baha'i faith.

Directed by Augustine Ripa, "The Kingfisher's Wing" is a one-man show in which author/performer Bill George uses puppets, shadow play, movement and music to recount the 19th century story of a Persian teen-age boy named Aqa Buzurg, who converted to the Baha'i faith and was chosen by the religion's founder to deliver a letter to the shah. To accomplish this, Aqa Buzurg embarked, on foot, on a 1,600-mile journey, at the end of which the shah had him tortured and killed.

George begins "The Kingfisher's Wing" with a short prayer and then shows the audience the puppets he uses. Manipulated with rods and consisting of sculpted heads mounted above flowing robes, the puppets represent Aqa Buzurg, his father, sister and the poet who succeeded in converting the boy.

xTC More intriguing than the way George manipulates the puppets, however, is the way he fluidly takes over their roles at several points in the evening. An early scene between brother and sister acquires added emphasis when George lays down the puppet of Aqa Buzurg and portrays the teen-ager himself.

This technique is especially effective at enhancing the character of the father. As the show progresses and Aqa Buzurg's faith is tested to the point where he is eventually martyred, our sympathy for his father is increased by having seen the old man portrayed not only by a puppet, but also by George, who is an even more expressive actor than puppeteer. (Theatre Project patrons will be familiar with George from his appearances here with Touchstone Theater of Bethlehem, Pa.)

He is particularly adept at depicting the villains of the piece -- the decadent shah, who hosts parties and issues death sentences with equal glee, and Aqa Buzurg's grinning, cigarette-smoking executioner.

In contrast to these flesh-and-blood portrayals, the scenes presented solely with puppets come across as somewhat thin. This shortcoming is most apparent in the pivotal, all-puppet scene when the poet converts Aqa Buzurg. "In the morning, he was delivered," we are told; but we never see how or why.

From the inclusion of prayers as well as several passages of direct-audience address, it is clear that "The Kingfisher's Wing" is a deeply personal piece to George. But unlike "Jesus Christ Superstar," the story of Aqa Buzurg will probably seem foreign and a bit odd to most Western audiences. For that reason, most of the audience may not connect with the work's overall spirituality, although George's own spirituality is unquestionably sincere.

The Kingfisher's Wing"

Where: Theatre Project, 45 W. Preston St.

When: 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays. Through Feb. 13

Tickets: $14

Call: (410) 752-8558

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