The British Isles are dotted with the remains of shrines of ancient Celtic pagan cultures that worshipped the tangible fruits of the Earth rather than the ethereal god of their eventual Christian conquerors. Vividly re-creating this medieval time of conflict between the sensual traditions of the old and the spiritual dogma of the new, writer-director Matthew Smith (“Tony ‘n’ Tina’s Wedding”) fashions a riveting adaptation of the Scottish legend of Tam Lin (Rich Bianco) and his steadfast lover Jennet (Jillian Brooke Robinson), who wage war against the vengeful Fairy Queen (Corinda Bravo). Smith marshals the considerable talents of a synergistic ensemble of nine, melding them into an awe-inspiring, multiheaded, storytelling beast. Their efforts are beautifully underscored and heightened by the evocative accompaniment of keyboardist Sam Aaron and percussionist Bendan Dowds.
Dressed in somber-toned slacks, T-shirts and hoods, the cast slithers onstage from the audience at the bidding of the Goddess-narrator (Dana Wieluns). Eschewing props and performing on a bare stage, the ensemble physically personifies every aspect of this tale, whether it be the gentle flow of water or the raging fury of a storm, a single delicate rose or a gigantic, human-devouring bush.
Led by Wieluns’ provocative storytelling skills, the ensemble never allows the throughline of the narrative to lag as they chronicle the demise of the fairies’ world and the vengeance their queen attempts to wreak on the humans who have condemned them to the shadows.
In the stronghold of the Clan MacKenzie, Bravo’s thoroughly alluring Fairy Queen has bewitched wandering knight Tam Lin to be her consort for 100 years. The century is up and his time will run out at midnight on All Hallows Eve, when he is scheduled to be killed by the next consort-in-waiting. His soul will then be condemned to hell for all eternity. His only possibility of salvation is the staunch intervention of MacKenzie maiden Jennet, who must protect Tam Lin through a nightlong siege of torment by the queen.
What elevates this tale above the level of children’s theater, aside from the overt sensuality of the storytelling, is the strongly stated underlying message that man’s quest for intellectual and spiritual sophistication has put him at odds with the very Earth that nourishes and supports him. Even as the Queen admits her defeat and relinquishes her claim on Tam Lin, she lets it be known that the battle is far from over.
Among this praiseworthy ensemble, there are a few standouts. Michelle Kaleta offers a vibrant performance as Oran, a dedicated worshipper of the Celtic traditions who eventually is browbeaten into submission by husband Ealdhain (Jason Webb), an early Christian follower who is destined to be the first victim of the Fairy Queen’s curse. One highlight of the production is the fierce duel to the death between Ealdhain and Tam Lin, punctuated effectively by Dowds’ percussion work.
The only jarring note to the proceedings is the meandering, pseudo-British accent of Mary Kate Karr — a distraction from her otherwise impressive portrayal of Jennet’s disapproving sister.