Theatre should be imaginative, pushing the boundaries of what is conventional to deliver performances that “move the heart, challenge the mind, and feast the senses,” according to Liars & Believers (LAB). The Cambridge-based theatre ensemble’s plays have exposed the greater Boston community to unique forms of artistic expression since its inception in 2009.
LAB’s latest creation, A Story Beyond, borrows from folklore around the world to spin a tale of trial and redemption. The story begins with its young heroine, Maya, in an enchanted village with the tradition of storytelling woven deep into its roots. The appearance of a dark cloud threatens the village’s livelihood, promising to turn all of its inhabitants to lead. When such begins to happen to the Maya’s grandma, Maya sets out on a quest to reach the Mad Mountain, the sentient mountain that looks over their village, and ask him how she can save her people.
She meets a bevy of characters over the course of her journey, all who serve to further the story’s narrative and teach a unique lesson to the protagonist. A number of stories are interwoven, ranging from a queen who must catch a firebird to earn her right to the throne to a golden stag who saves a hunter from certain doom. While these stories initially seem irrelevant to the plot, they speak to the importance of listening to others. In one scene, Maya is threatened by a Condor. At first she fears for her life, but after taking the time to listen to the condor’s story and empathize with its loss, Maya is allowed to continue on her journey.
The play, performed in the small Plaza Black Box theatre at the Boston Center for the Arts, pulls the audience into the story from its opening number. The main ensemble includes Rachel Wiese (Isabel), Jesse Garlick (Stanislav), Rosie Mcinnes (Nancy), and Aislinn Brophy (Thanasia), all of whom do a fantastic job working together and fulfilling different roles to bring the fable to life.
Award-winning puppeteer Faye Dupras collaborates with Jason Slavick, the artistic director and founder of LAB, to create the play’s key characters. Folkish music and lyrics by artist Nathan Leigh, brought to life by Jeff Butcher (Zuzek the Mandolinist) and Bri Tagliaferro (Rosalina the Cellist), further set the ambiance of the scene and transport the audience back to a simpler time.
Slavick finds inspiration for his plays in folklore and mythology, as well as in current events that encompass modern society. As is the case with most of LAB’s productions, A Story Beyond brings audiences the full theatrical experience through a mix of puppetry, dance, masks, and music. The play itself has many influences, one of which was the 2016 presidential election. The dark cloud symbolizes a lack of willingness to cooperate and empathize with the perspectives of others, something that’s undoubtedly prevalent in the current political climate.
Despite its grim ending, A Story Beyond urges audiences to forgo these difficulties and listen to one another in hopes of making the world a more accepting place. Charming viewers with its meticulous care for its subject matter, LAB takes giant strides forward and proves once again that it is committed to making quality—and creative—art.
Featured Image Courtesy of Liars and Believers