The Bundle

By Edward Bond
Directed by Jim Niesen
Irondale Ensemble Project
Theatre for the New City
155 First Avenue (633-1202)
Non-union production (closes May 25)
Review by Maya T. Amis

The Bundle is an allegorical distillation of Asian history that focuses on the fate of a child abandoned beside a river. A judge/philosopher (Michael-David Gordon) passes by and declines to rescue the waif, while a poor ferryman (Steven Satta) takes him in against his better judgment. As the child (Georgina Corbo) grows, he questions the established order of this feudal society and, following a stint as an indentured servant (a slave, really), becomes a revolutionary. The story is presented in a surreal fashion, appropriate given the utter irrelevance of an actual geographical or historical setting. The real questions that this play addresses are those of class and of charity. Does saving one child make a difference? Should one bother? Is revolution the only gesture that really changes things? The answers here are equivocal; what matters is that the questions are raised.

The cast of eight played 27 roles, with whichever members were not occupied with acting remaining in the background. When necessary, various members of the cast played the percussion instruments that so effectively lent atmosphere to the show. Ken Rothchild's set had the simplicity of a Zen garden: plain planking on two levels, separated by light-gray gravel studded with brown stones and pottery. This neutral palette was varied only by splashes of red, primarily supplied by calligraphic banners. The costumes, by Hilarie Blumenthal, echoed the color scheme, being vaguely Asian garments in neutral shades of brown and gray with a few startling additions of bright red. The set was first seen occupied by a grove of tall bamboo poles set in empty plastic water bottles. Both were played by the cast at various points in the play in complex and evocative dances, where the poles were weapons of offense and defense as much as rhythm instruments. Music and choreography, designed by Tyler Kent, were clearly inspired by Asian musical forms as well as movement styles such as tai chi. Percussion and dance were combined in sequences that served as introduction and commentary to the elements of the play.

This stylized piece was well-performed by a focused cast, which also included Alain Hunkins, Terry Greiss, and Jacqueline Klee. Everyone was excellent, and their ability to change character, age, and gender (and even to take a turn at the drums) was impressive. The play itself is interesting, but at two-and-a-half hours (not counting intermission) it is too long by perhaps a half-hour. There was a prolonged sequence involving a barely verbal bandit (Yvonne Brechbuhler) that added little to the momentum or the story. Some strategic cutting would tighten up this play and make it an even more fascinating look at the human condition through the prism of a mythic Asia.

(Also featuring Kathryn Grant; lighting design, A.C. Hickox.)

Box Score:
Writing 1
Directing 2
Acting 2
Set 2
Costumes 2
Lighting/Sound 1
Copyright 1996 Maya T. Amis

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