I don’t think there’s a company in town that’s better equipped to take on Thornton Wilder’s early short plays than Imaginary Beats. Dealing with their brevity and vast range, while maintaining their headiness and sense of comedy isn’t easy to do. These plays jump from the mythological to the spiritual to the philosophical with slapstick and history and music. Keeping all this afloat goes far beyond what’s necessary with any conventional text. But, at the end of the day, you’re left with some very difficult texts written by a budding intellectual–and we all know how hard young intellectual artists like to make their audiences work.
So I can’t say I walked out of Director Matthew Woods’ production feeling as positive about it as I have after his other recent shows. He pulled several of his old aesthetic tricks out of his bag–actors winding string around each other in melancholy choreography and manipulating handheld puppets–but I missed the usual experiential cohesion I get from Imaginary Beasts. With music, lighting, and wonderfully choreographed movement Woods is usually able to construct what feel like eery dreams, but there’s a distinct lack of that experience here.
And maybe that’s just what happens when you put on nine short plays that skip around in subject matter from Mozart to a dying Carolingian soldier. Imaginary Beasts is perfectly able to support the intellectual content of these texts and elevate it with their usual heavily stylized style. The talented and witty company has a few much appreciated additions of dancers and vocalists that provide some great little nuggets of musical performance–combined with Woods’ own classical music soundboard DJing. But this chain of scenes, characters, and experiments in dramatic conventions is dampened by its difficulty and academic significance.