Letter: Has thoughts on Phipps' play
On stage, an ominous looking throne appearing to have been coarsely hewn from the ancient stone deep beneath the mountains where the sun is never known and the moon mentioned only in hushed reverential whispers.
In the air the mournful strains of Norway's equally beloved and iniquitous national instrument; the hardingfele or hardanger fiddle (similar to a violin; with eight or nine strings).
The unique voice of the hardanger wields such hypnotic power over the listener that, ostensibly, its tunings were obtained from the devil himself. This is the scene that greets theater-goers in The Phipps Center for the Arts' Children's Theater's latest production, "East of the Sun & West of the Moon," which completes its run this weekend.
The story is a simple and familiar fable similar to "Beauty and the Beast" whose insights into appearances not always being what they seem is easily digestible even by the youngest members of the attentive audience. The cast does a remarkable job in bringing the story to life -- The stunningly rendered sets and costume design; (the trolls Waldo and Coby in particular) evoke the style of award-winning children's author/illustrator Jan Brett. Although the troll queen as portrayed by Annamarie Sellman with her continual threats of banishment to "Limbo!" commands an appropriately thrilling level of frightful authority, a gloriously imaginative white bear brings a veritable kabuki-level theatrical stylization to the stage.
Yet it is in a line delivered by Stephan Arneson, who portrays Medar the father of the four winds, which provides the thread from whence this theatrical tapestry is woven. That statement is "all music has magic."
From the moment you step into the theater, it is the soundtrack implemented for "East of the Sun & West of the Moon" that is fundamental in creating the authentic native atmosphere and the Norwegian spirit inhabiting this production.
In utilizing Minneapolis' avante-gard Northside Records label recording artists such as the gifted hardingfele player Annbjorg Lien, the production becomes truly inspiring.
Here is to be found an education in a historic, cultural specific fable combined with cutting-edge musical exploration. The guttural Samii joik is alien yet hauntingly familiar. It is the sound of aboriginal storytellers gathered around a fire passing down deep knowledge through oral tradition.
The confluence of cultures old and new in this rewarding production yields just such an experience. Traditional old stories and songs become new and vibrant, while the new theater-goers are presented with old and important wisdom.