Istwa! Storytime for a small world
nytheatre.com review by Lynn Berg
August 15, 2011
Istwa! is a FringeJR production presented by York College Theatre at the Living Theatre. The production is appropriate for grade-school-aged children. Billed as “storytime for a small world,” the show appeals to a presumed parental desire to “unplug” kids’ entertainment with story theatre traditions and cultural diversity.
A program note explains the show's genesis this way: "Last fall at CUNY York College in Queens, the ensemble of Istwa! met more than 200 hours together... to create a show based on full communication with a total commitment to voice, body and spirit..."
The four tales of Istwa! come from around the world. “The Little Tailor” is from Germany. There’s a comic yarn of criminal cover-ups from Appalachia. “The Talking Eggs” is a Cinderella story from Haiti that’s unafraid to give the wicked stepmother and stepsister what they’ve got coming to them. And “Too Much Talk” is a slight anthropomorphic fable from Ghana.
Istwa!’s one original episode wisely takes its young audiences on an imaginary journey of interaction and participation. It’s the only time the show uses those fundamentals of children’s theatre and the production could take more advantage of them throughout.
The performers rely on imagination, though, by creating diverse settings and characters with their bodies and voices. What the ensemble might lack in theatre credits they make up for with enthusiasm and good will. They play humbly and generously, supporting each other as equals without attempting to hog the limelight. Alex Constanides gave my favorite performance, providing comic accompaniment on kazoo and percussion while inventing delightfully goofy sound effects.
Istwa!’s four stories and one participatory interlude are appropriate for young children. At first glance the subject matter of a couple of the stories, like the best of folk tales, flirts with questionable or scary themes, but they’re all presented very innocently without tension or danger. Despite the program note’s promise of “exploring questions and problems of childhood” the enjoyment of this production comes from the simpler cross-cultural act of sharing silly stories.