The Story Tellers
nytheatre.com review by Richard Hinojosa
August 10, 2013
Fans of storytelling may well enjoy this production. It takes three macabre short stories, and one narrative poem, and adapts them for the stage in a way that is both interesting and entertaining.
The evening opens quite appropriately with The Storyteller, a short story from British writer Hector Hugh Munro, better known by his pen name Saki. The story centers around three rambunctious youngsters who cannot be appeased by their aunt’s moralistic story. In steps a man who tells them another story that not only holds their attention but also tears down the righteous story told by the aunt. The next story is The Toll House penned in 1909 by W.W. Jacobs. It centers on a group of men who get more than they bargained for when they decide to explore a supposedly haunted house. The next one is a very enjoyable musical adaptation of Robert Service’s famous 1907 poem The Cremation of Sam Mcgee. The final story, and certainly the most well known, is Edgar Allan Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart.
Adaptor/Director Abigail Strange does a great job creating a spooky atmosphere and makes good use of the three quarter surround stage. The set is suitably spare having only four footlockers and some electric candles leaving the stage open to some great movement. I had some trouble hearing the dialogue over the air conditioner throughout the piece and, specifically, over the guitar in The Cremation of Sam Mcgee. Strange may want to have her cast project a little more if they’re going to keep the AC running. Strange’s adaptations stay true to their original stories and she highlights the themes of the stories very well. In the first two stories she divides narration lines among the cast and while I can understand why she would want to utilize the whole cast in this way, it left me feeling disengaged from the story. I think there’s a lot to be said for a single narrator guiding the listeners through the plot.
Louis Aquiler (who is also a cast member) composes a beautiful original score for the production. I really enjoyed the light strumming of a guitar that underlined the first story without being intrusive at all. The music he creates for the telling of The Cremation of Sam Mcgee is fantastic! I loved the guitar, the ukulele and the use of the footlockers as drums. I am very familiar with this story and I really liked what they did with it. Like many others, I am also very familiar with The Tell-Tale Heart. Ensemble member Kristin Nemecek recites the story at a breakneck pace. Her performance is quite accomplished though she may try slowing down a little and taking her time with it. Much of the darkness of the story comes through in the narrator’s constant struggle to claim sanity and that was lost in this recounting.
The rest of the cast, Tyler Gattoni, Patrick Harman, Christopher Wentworth and Bethany NcNamara, do a great job with their various roles. The cast certainly has great chemistry and they worked as single unit. I was impressed with their dedication to the material and their characters.
Where this production fails in some ways to draw in the listener it succeeds in creating an eerie ambiance throughout the evening. Fans of storytelling and the macabre should make a point to catch this one.