Manuscript Found in Saragossa
Adapted from Jan Potocki by Christine Mary Dunford. Dir. Dunford. With ensemble cast. Lookingglass Theatre.
For those of us who'd love to see Lookingglass take its impressive talent for eye-catching imagery and direct it toward more substantive theater, its latest offering is instructive: Less visual play and more words aren't, by themselves, the answer. Manuscript certainly has some attractive staging (though already familiar to Lookingglass patrons), such as actors hanging from the ceiling while either cocooned in fabric or hanged by a thick noose. But between the pretty pictures, the show flags. It's like a wind-up doll that springs into action when actors hop onto each other's backs to ride horsey, and then gradually slows down during the dialogue.
In Dunford's leisurely paced adaptation of the fantastical 18th-century tale by Polish scribe Potocki, a young officer leaves his parents to join the guard in Madrid. Along the way, he comes across women who might be either his horny cousins or demons, and bandits who might be good guys or bad. Dunfordworks hard to untangle the knotty plot, but Manuscript never erases the question mark above our heads, which has less to do with what is happening than why. With all the business about characters being Jewish, Muslim or Christian, and the officer finding himself claimed by a secret nondenominational band of misfits, any take on faith—or any subject—is unclear. This thematically murky, bemusing rather than amusing play misses the human element. And that absence is all the more apparent whenever Lookingglass's fancy visual tricks don't obscure it.—Novid Parsi