The Golden Veil
nytheatre.com review by Victoria Linchong
June 6, 2012
An innovative experimental group that has been around for about a decade, National Theater of the United States of America (NTUSA) has previously produced an inventive deconstruction of the Chautauqua lecture circuit and immersive theatrical experiences examining amusement parks and casino floor shows. Like those previous plays, The Golden Veil is a clever concoction of live music, dance, storytelling, learned discourse, and dramatic vignettes; it tells and re-tells the story of an unfortunate shepherdess, who is seduced and abandoned by a young inventor. Or sometimes he is a mysterious horseman. Or maybe the inventor becomes the horseman?
The story gets a little jumbled in its retelling and I was frankly puzzled by the play. Perhaps frivolity is part of the point, perhaps I’m looking too deeply for meaning or clarity, but while I definitely found The Golden Veil unique and entertaining, NTUSA never manages to make any relevant point in their wry deconstruction of the shepherdess’s tale and the idealization of pastoral life in the 19th century. It ultimately left me wondering why they were compelled to dust off those stale old bodice-rippers.
The problem is that our relationship to the natural world is vastly different from when Marlowe, Shakespeare and Keats wrote their paeans to a shepherd’s simple life. When was the last time anyone ever saw a shepherdess? Or worried about going too deep into the forest? Attempting to tease out some satisfying substance in this very musty old story, NTUSA flies into tangents, shoehorning something about sexuality and reverse class envy, but the relevance of the piece to contemporary life is really pretty flimsy.
Where The Golden Veil is most successful is in its design. Ben Kato’s chiaroscuro lighting is easily the most dramatic thing in the play. Normandy Raven Sherwood, who also wrote the script, created the stunning late-Victorian costumes. James Stanley’s gorgeous set is comprised of sumptuous damask drapes and a mobile library room that glides downstage and opens up like an elegant mahogany jewel box.
Perhaps the story is really meant to be nothing more than a frame for the amusing antics of the group. The Golden Veil is certainly imaginative and offers some pretty unforgettable absurdities. The shepherdess tap dances with her sheep. A lemon gets raped by a plum. The likable cast includes Jesse Hawley, who evinces a wide-eyed solemnity as the Shepherdess, in contrast to the knowing archness of Maggie Robinson as the Medium, the primary storyteller in the play.
The two of them also sing exquisitely, backed by a five-piece band, including a violinist and slide guitar. “My broken heart is not the only one,” sang Hawley in one particularly haunting ballad, “There are tears enough to put out the sun.” The yearning heartfelt music provides an emotional undertow in this otherwise abstruse but intriguing play.