There are just a few more days to catch one of the most original productions I’ve seen from the fringe scene in a long time. For their show Cruel Botany, Imaginary Beasts (known for their winter pantos) has paired two short and imaginative one acts that meditate on love and magic into a wonderfully unique and offbeat show with garden settings. Imaginary Beasts’ artful direction (Matthew Woods), lighting (Chris Bocchiaro), choreography (Austin Aug & Micah Tougas), costumes (Cotton Talbot-Minkin), and sets (Matthew Woods) come together with a cohesion that is as fanciful as it is artful, and delightfully unique.
The first play is Harry Kondoleon’s The Fairy Garden, which picks up in the garden of a large house where three idlers sip cassis and talk of Capri: Dagney (Molly Kimmerling) and gay couple Roman (Joey Pelletier) & Mimi (Sam Eckmann). Their leisure is supported by Boris (Juan Carlos Pinedo), who as Dagney’s sugardaddy husband, is absent from their garden party life. We get the picture that he only occasionally looks up from his financial reports to give his trophy wife gifts of diamonds. But, despite all the diamonds, Dagney has fallen for a youthful mechanic (Jesse Wood), known only by the name of his “profession,” and so she ducks into the house to talk things over with Boris and get more ice. She comes out with his head in the ice bucket.
Then, the garden’s resident fairy (Jacqueline McCoy) appears, holds Dagney and her friends up for their diamonds, and an often zany series of events follows. But what’s interesting is how Kondoleon shifts his narrative, and his characters’ positions within that narrative, around. He achieves these massive shifts in sexuality, identity, and agency, without ever really letting his wry Noel Coward-esque veil of comic dialogue and events drop. Keeping up with Kondoleon is no small feat. Emotions shift quickly and the play is a tricky balance of comedy and drama; the utterly real and the magical, where deep despair meets indulgent superficiality. Imaginary Beasts balances this equation perfectly, playing up all the quirkiness and theatricality that makes the play so much fun.
The real highlight of the night was Federico García Lorca’s The Love of Don Perlimplín and Belisa in the Garden, which picks up many of the themes & tropes of The Fairy Garden: unrequited love, melodrama, magic, and the quirky weirdness Imaginary Beasts is just so damn good at. But it drops the quippy dialogue and erratic development to be a much tighter piece built like a fable.
The Love of Don Perlimplín follows the aging Don (a fantastic performance by Juan Carlos Pinedo) into marriage with his young neighbor, Belisa (Kimmerling). Marriage is something he’s been hiding from in his library all these years, afraid because he heard about a wife strangling her husband once as a boy. At the urging of his servant (Jacqueline McCoy) he comes out of his celibacy only to be cuckolded on his wedding night. He emerges from his bedroom horned and we later hear about the five guys that climbed up to Belisa’s balcony that night.
Imaginary Beasts delights in Lorca’s surrealism, building for us a dreamscape with clever lighting and fantastic choreography. A kind of chorus of dancers constantly creep & roll around the set, giving us these wonderfully poetic images that make the relatively simple and quiet text just brim with art.
The play ends with the poetry of a tragedy and the lesson of a fable, pulling together so many beautifully choreographed images and sweeps of movement and music, as Lorca’s unique comedy falls away to reveal the seriousness of truth. Imaginary Beasts’ production is uniquely beautiful and profound and I couldn’t imagine one doing more justice to this play. I can’t wait to see more cool and original theater from this young group that, thankfully, marches to the beat of their own drum.
“Cruel Botany” runs through June 23rd at the BCA. Tickets are about $20 at bostontheatrescene.com