Playwright: Susan Hahn
At: 16th Street Theater,
6420 16th St., Berwyn
Runs through: Aug. 2
BY CATEY SULLIVAN
With a sharp, intelligent wonder, poet Susan Hahn creates a world of ruby wings tipped in black and blood and broken hearts that vanish at the feather brush of an agile master magician. This is poetry for connoisseurs of the genre. And for those who run from poetry for fear of a stultifying onslaught of irrelevant, obtuse fancy. With Hahn's The Scarlet Ibis, 16th Street Theater offers poetry as theater in the guise of a mood and atmosphere as vivid as a slash in the skin.
In staging the 34 poems in Hahn's slim volume The Scarlet Ibis, 16th Street Artistic Director Ann Filmer creates kinetic illustrations that evoke jagged, sharp stories and sudden flights of emotional fancy. With a trio of actors working in a feverdream of light, sound and lush video design, The Scarlet Ibis isn't so much a narrative as ambiance and a million needle points of recognition. Hahn's terse, luxurious words compact experiences and emotions that can unfold over hours, days, years and even lifetimes into moments. Here, a suavely debonair, top-hat-wearing magician astounds with disappearing lady tricks and a lady levitates under the abracadabra spell of romance. But the Lady ( Amy Dunlap ) and the Magician ( Matt Olson at opening; Ed Dzialo through Aug. 2 ) always circle back to the Bird ( Kathleen Powers ) : a corseted, crested avian fantasy who invokes the Egyptian god Thoth—a cruelly caged wild creature and a brilliantly colored predator capable of thriving in piranha-infested waters .
How audiences interpret The Scarlet Ibis—either in its entirety or in its individual constellations of words and motion—will be as varied as audience members themselves. In place of a traditional story or crisply defined monologue, there is an immersion in reflective possibilities. When the Bird cries out that she's tired of history, the cry can stand as the final breath of human existence, a commentary on the rapacious history of civilization on its earthly home or anything in between. When the piece ruminates on the insanity of growth—a billion cells dividing at a speed far exceeding the surety of safety—it can evoke the sprawl of a billion strip malls, the agony of an individual cancer or the delirious joy of shedding a tired, abused skin to make way for a personal resurgence. The power of The Scarlet Ibis lies not in its ability to put forth a single message or story but in its ability to evoke an infinite number of them.
The 45-minute production is infused with composer and sound designer Barry Bennett's original music, Kristin Reeves' marvelous video design and Mac Vaughey's haunting lighting as it is infused with them. The result? Words, magic and motion.