Ethos of Old World fables: “A Story Beyond”

Presented by Liars & Believers
Written by Jason Slavick and Rachel Wiese
Music and Lyrics by Nathan Leigh
Directed by Jason Slavick and Faye Dupras

Dec 6 – Dec 22, 2018
Boston Center for the Arts Plaza Theatre
539 Tremont Street
Boston, MA 02116
Liars & Believers on Facebook

Review by Diana Lu 

(Boston, MA) A Story Beyond is a reimagined fable inspired by various European folklores. This new musical tells the story of a young girl, Maya, who makes a dangerous and fantastical journey to figure out how to save her village from a dark cloud that threatens to turn everyone she loves into lead. Maya’s story is told through puppets, shadow puppets, mask theatre, and a two-person band. Other folk tales are interwoven with the main plot like a Spokane.

When a show’s cast greets everyone in the audience with hot apple cider and in-character banter, it’s hard not to be completely enchanted and write them a glowing review. So I’ll start with the positives, of which there are indeed many.

The music was gorgeous. Nathan Leigh’s score truly embodied the ethos of Old World fables. The instrumentalists were also included as players on the stage. Their lively performances added palpable vigor to the production.

The actors were all masterful and charming. They each gamely embodied a different culture’s fables, did puppetry, prop work, stage painting, and living environment, and really brought life to each of these roles. There were also many cute and humorous parts, like the vegan bear, or the interaction between the musicians and the actors.

The costumes, masks, lighting, and entire scenic setup was stunning. I especially liked the efficient use of physical acting and props to create so many different landscapes on the small stage. The storytelling and musical interludes were complemented by a dreamy shadow puppet show presented on a cloth screen that doubled as a back wall for the acted-out scenes.

Physically, witnessing all this was like being immersed in an atavistically wondrous mirrorworld, where different times, spaces, cultures swirl around, collapse and re-emerge in fractal form like crystalline patterns on a frozen leaf.

All that said, I was not impressed by the story overall, nor its execution. The characters were stock, one dimensional archetypes, and their relationships were too superficial for me to invest in their existential dilemma. Many of the themes and metaphors I observed were too on the nose, like groan-worthy puns, and “The Hero’s Journey” was spelled out so guilelessly I felt like I was watching a 10thgrader’s social studies presentation on Joseph Campbell and The Power of Myth.

Within the show, the focus kept shifting back and forth between the players, the puppets, and the musicians. Sometimes this was supposed to be part of the story, other times it seemed like a distracting, meta interruption. Often at key moments, the characters would break the 4thwall and go into another story.

In a Spokane, divergent scenes are used to inject energy and new information into the existing scene, but here, starting a completely unrelated story at points of great emotional heightening or just before a plot development completely squandered the tension that had previously been building. Also, the show began with an unrelated scene about a fox that was never returned to, which made it seem all the more pointless.

I was pretty bored the entire 75-minute, no intermission run. I didn’t really care about Maya or whether she ended up saving her village and inadvertently tuned out during a lot of the other folktales.

Of course, the story really makes or breaks a show for me. There were a lot of fantastic qualities to this play, and I think especially for children, seeing this production would be a whimsical and beguiling experience.

On a final note, I really appreciated that they had live captioning for deaf and hard of hearing audience members. I’ve never seen that in a show that was already performed in English before, and it’s going to make me more thoughtful about accessibility in the performing arts.

So here you go, Liar & Believers: a compliment sandwich to pair with that cider!

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