Monday, April 27, 2015

The Fire and the Rain Theatre Review

Dallas Tolentino & Lynette Rathnam (r) star in The Fire and the Rain (Photo: Stan Barouh)

Let's Have the Play!

Nothing beats live theatre; but more often than not, the audience already knows the story (and how it turns out.) This wasn't the case (at least for me) at last night's opening performance of The Fire and the Rain at the Source Theatre. Instead, we were treated to an original, passionately-performed production, written by Girish Karnad and directed by Allison Arkell Stockman. It runs long (2½ hours with a 15-minute intermission) but each minute is packed with energy and excitement. Early on, we're reminded, "We need a play to refresh our minds." Amen to that, and encore, encore!

Given my relative inexperience in regards to theatre (I'm the one who doesn't like Rent, etc.) I pride myself on having an open mind. Either a show entertains me, or it doesn't. The Fire and the Rain does the former, and then some. It's played across a super-simple stage (literally rows and rows of bamboo poles, ceiling to floor) with musician Tom Teasley tucked away in a giant pothole of sorts, dead-center. My vantage point (against the far wall, second row) afforded me a special peak at the actors, as they slipped on and off stage... One of the many benefits from a flexible black box theatre.

Lynette Rathnam stars in The Fire and the Rain (Photo: Stan Barouh)

Karnad's story is based on the centuries-old tale of Mahabharata, and centers around young lovers Arvasu and Nittilai, played superbly by Dallas Tolentino & Lynette Rathnam respectively. Arvasu returns home, hoping to resume a promising acting career, only to encounter some "serious family issues," that you have to see to believe. Suffice it to say, even the Kardashians appear normal compared to these guys. We're talkin' infidelity, murder, sacrifice and evil spirits... to name just a few.

Dallas Tolentino stars in The Fire and the Rain (Photo: Stan Barouh)

Although the character names are next-to-impossible to remember (at least for me) the story is relatively easy to follow. Credit clean prose, excellent timing and the aforementioned passionate performances (literally across the board.) Tolentino flips and leaps across the stage with boundless energy, emitting a warm innocence along the way. His brother Paravasu (Michael Kevin Darnall) is delightfully charming, before, during and after his metamorphosis into an unexpected monster. He produces several of the show's genuine surprise moments, which keep your eyes glued to the stage (in fear of missing one golden morsel.)

Passion dominates the first half of the show, with a particularly strong demonstration by Arvasu and Paravasu's angry papa Raibhya (Jonathon Church.) Turns out, Raibhya is jealous of his oldest son and very suspicious of his feisty daughter-in-law (Katy Carkuff.) Church is literally dynamite, going ballistic in between sage observations, "So this is what 10 years of austerity amounts to?" Carkuff's role proves the meatiest of all, and she delivers every line with unabashed (and deliciously effective) contempt. Heck yeah, I cheated... So what? OK, that's not a quote; but suffice it to say, she has no problem owning up to anything. Her character (and Rathnam's, especially in the second half) are equal parts interesting and strong... two refreshing qualities for female stage actors, qualities that appear more than once at the Source (The Love of the Nightingale leaps to mind.) If only Hollywood could keep up...

The Fire and the Rain provides plenty of both (although the latter takes a while to appear.) Its players are confrontational, daring and physical. Some characters are straight-forward; while others are just plain interesting such as Jonathan Lee Taylor's Yavakri, who's accused of "put(ting) the treacherous viper to shame," and the hulking demon Brahma Rakshasa (Ryan Andrew Mitchell) who reminds Paravasu, "It's not so easy to get rid of a brother... brother." He's plenty scary whilst silent, but oh-so-compelling when he's not.

Needless to say, I left the theater elated and impressed... a far cry from my initial impressions (a stage full of bamboo poles doesn't exactly instill confidence.) Who knew the actors (and their carefully pinned positions on stage) could be so distracting... in such a positive way? The 2014-15 season Constellation season ends on the highest of notes. Don't you dare miss it.

Grade: A-

The Fire and the Rain plays through May 24th. Click here for showtimes and tickets.