by ANNA ROSENSWEIG
Conceived by Open Eye Figure Theatre’s co-founder Michael Sommers, this new marionette play, A Sorcerer’s Apprentice, is an adaptation of Goethe’s 1797 poem Der Zauberlehling. Most viewers, however, will be more familiar with the version featured in Disney’s Fantasia (1940). Remember the famous scene with Mickey Mouse and the brooms? Sommers’ version also includes a pivotal scene in which the apprentice bewitches a broom in order to avoid manual labor. Not yet aware of the ends of his magical powers, he quickly let’s things get out of hand. This sequence, and many others in this beautiful show, contains many visually striking elements that are impressive for both their technical construction, and their ability to tell a story.
The production also includes some dialogue, which is spoken by the apprentice, the sorcerer, and the latter’s servant, named Crat (he’s part cat, part rat). Unfortunately this dialogue felt rather tedious, and didn’t add much to the experience. I’m not sure whether Sommers used a translation of Goethe or an adaptation of a different iteration of this classic story. In any event, I found the spoken words distracting rather than elucidating. There are, however, some whimsical uses of subtitles. It would have been interesting to see more of this technique used to complement the production’s stunning and inventive visuals. A further problem with the dialogue is that it often fights to be heard over the live music that accompanies the show. For its part, the music works quite well. Composed by Eric Jensen and performed by Ellie Fregni, Rena Kraut, Liam Smith, and Open Eye co-founder Susan Haas, the score helps the production establish its pace, and provides a nice complement to the set.
At the end of the show, the puppeteers put down their marionettes and came out on stage for a well-deserved bow. They looked huge, towering over the world that the marionettes had just inhabited. It’s not that puppeteers Laura Abend, Kyle Loven, Liz Schachterle, and Justin Spooner are particularly tall people. It’s that the show had trained me to see the marionettes’ size and proportions as a kind of norm. The fact that I experienced these artists as disproportionately tall, as literal giants, is a testament to the work’s success. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice establishes a world where rules of size and space work differently from our own. In so doing, the production does not just show the story of an aging sorcerer and his unwitting new apprentice, it teaches us how to see it.
THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE, by Michael Sommers. February 10- March 4, 2012. Open Eye Figure Theatre, 506 E 24th Street, Minneapolis. Tickets: $10-15. Not recommended for children under 8 years old. Box office: