Arts & Events

AROUND AND ABOUT: Theater Review: 'The Wild Bride'--Kneehigh Theatre at Berkeley Rep

By Ken Bullock
Thursday December 15, 2011 - 10:41:00 AM

Under a slouch hat, the eyes of the guitarist shift; he grimaces as he sings Robert Johnson's Delta blues "Crossroads" under a tree with a mirror in its splayed branches, but no shade.  

Like Johnson's lyrics, Kneehigh Theatre's 'The Wild Bride' sports a mythic aura--the guitarist turns out to be the Devil (Stuart McLoughlin)--but only in order to vaudevillize itself. Everybody sings, dances, plays music, often narrating themselves or talking to the audience. There's something close to a Christmas Panto in this show, making it a very appropriate holiday show.  

Based on traditional folk-fairytales, the most famous version found in the Brothers Grimm, often called "Silverhands" (which Ragged Wing Ensemble did their own, inimitable take on not long ago, 'Handless'), Kneehigh's show is an engaging potpourri of storytelling theater shtick by a high-energy cast, well-directed by Kneehigh artistic director Emma Rice. The story, a flexible vehicle for a tightly staged production, details how the faithful daughter of a layabout farmer is coveted by the Devil, who tricks the father into making a deal to trade her away.  

But the Devil can't get a purchase on her goodness--so he has her mutilated, degraded, exiled to the wild, all to break down her innocent virtue. She's discovered stealing pears by an eccentric kilt-clad prince (Stuart Goodwin, also the father), who marries her--but is called away to war on the eve of the birth of their child. 

Three women take turns playing the protagonist in her different ages--The Girl (Audrey Brisson), The Wild (Patrycja Kujawska) and The Woman (Eva Magyar)--a hackneyed storytelling theater stunt, here cleanly rendered and fresh. The three performers bring their talents to both the sharing of the role and supporting the action--Brisson in wonderful singing voice, Kujawska playing violin, Magyar with superb movement ... 

Yet all are dynamos at movement and dance. Their charm suffuses the elasticity of the story, which has the off-the-cuff spontaneity of raconteurship, despite the intricate staging and production values--which would be even more effective in Kneehigh's usual haunts: barns and their big tent (The Refuge) in rural Cornwall. 

Ian Ross accompanies the action and songs--and the cast's playing--throughout on various instruments, the music ranging from familiar standards to Eastern European strains. 

There's nothing particularly new about what the company does--it's the impeccable way they put it together, performing seamlessly, yet with great immediacy, feeling and humor. 'The Wild Bride' is a wonderful theatrical entertainment for everyone and anyone. 

Tuesdays through Sundays, different times, through January 1. Roda Theatre 2015 Addison (near Shattuck). $14.50-$73. 647-2949;