"There was once a witch who desired to know everything. ... Her name was Watho, and she had a wolf in her mind."
A pretty cool hook for a fairy tale and, as it turns out, a pretty cool inspiration for an original production being staged by Single Carrot Theatre under the intriguing title "Illuminoctem."
The source material comes from 19th-century Scottish author and clergyman George MacDonald, who counted the likes of Tennyson and Lewis Carroll among his friends, the likes of Tolkien and C.S. Lewis among those he influenced.
MacDonald's multilayered story, "The Day Boy and the Night Girl," is rife with imagery, action and philosophy, more than enough to generate a play or perhaps a musical. Those clever, trendy folks at Single Carrot headed in another direction altogether, creating a wordless piece of movement-theater instead.
The hour-plus work outlines the main elements of the fairy tale's plot, adding a few twists. Not everything clicks, and there isn't necessarily a grand, profound impact along the way, but the cumulative effect of "Illuminoctem" proves persuasive.
Even with input from four choreographers, there's a coherent look and shape to the show. And a moody, often viscerally percussive original score by Jesse Case, music director for Second City's touring troupe, provides a strong common thread.
The knowledge-seeking witch MacDonald conjured up has quite the mean streak - "She was not naturally cruel," the story says, "but the wolf had made her cruel."
Watho manages to get her hands on two children and raises each in a private world that is missing a key ingredient. The boy she names Photogen; he is kept from ever discovering darkness, knowing only the sunlit world. The girl, named Nycteris, is kept from ever discovering natural light.
Of course, the two kids are destined to discover what they have been missing and to discover each other in the process. Watho, naturally, takes a dim view of their escape from her clutches.
"Illuminoctem," directed by Brendan Ragan, unfolds at a steady pace on a stage that becomes a remarkably vibrant space, thanks to Joey Bromfield's scenic and, in particular, lighting design. Some of the most memorable effects are produced simply by the way characters are illuminated, as when four menacing figures rise slowly in unison from a prostrate position at the rim of the stage, their faces alone flecked with a reddish glow.
Costumes by Chelsea Carter, of Jim Henson's famed company, add a stylish touch; Tzveta Kassabova also contributed designs for the project.
The choreography ranges from the acrobatic moves Marilyn Mullen crafted for the opening scene, when Watho's minions slam floors with their hands and bounce off of walls, to Sarah Anne Austin's lyrical, balletic approach for the love-at-first-sight scene. The latter includes an especially telling gesture for Nycteris, who approaches Photogen in a half-crouch, then gently rises, as if savoring each inch of the life-changing view before her.
The previous scene, depicting the escape of Nycteris and her encounter with fireflies, is beautifully choreographed by Naoko Maeshiba. The movements devised for the finale by Kwame Opare include some overly obvious touches for the angry Watho, clenched teeth and all, but also a disarming disrobing for the witch, as she is cleansed of her shameful past (a concept not found in MacDonald's story) and rewrapped in white gauze. This scene involves full nudity, by the way, so be advised.
Giti Jabaily uncannily matches MacDonald's "tall and graceful" description of Watho, and her fluid moves are effective. Alexandra Lewis makes an eloquent Nycteris. Nathan Fulton conveys Photogen's innocence deftly. The supporting ensemble - Jessica Garrett, Genevieve de Mahy, Nathan A. Cooper, Aldo Pantoja - does solid, expressive work.
If you go
"Illuminoctem" will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays and 2:30 Sundays through Dec. 20 at Single Carrot Theatre, 120 W. North Ave. Tickets are $10 to $20. Call 443-844-9253 or go to singlecarrot.com.