I’d never set foot in a “figure theater” before this week, though venues of this type have existed in some form in numerous cultures for hundreds, if not thousands of years. The Open Eye Figure Theater is purpose-built for performances involving puppetry, and this production of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice uses gorgeous marionettes for the task.
Born from the vision and craft of artist Michael Sommers, inspired by Goethe’s original text (Goethe’s poem was also the inspiration for Disney’s Fantasia sequence of the same name), this production has a visual design that is both striking and incredibly clever. The set itself becomes a character, morphing in both purpose and scale and rebuilding itself as if by magic into various scenes, ranging from a kitchen to Dali-like staircase. Mischievous wizard hats pop out of cupboards and tease the young apprentice. A venerable old sorcerer appears to float against an inky blackness. Every scene contains a visual surprise or delight. And throughout, the apprentice’s unexpected friend, the Scrat, pops in to prod him along and check on his progress.
Honestly, it’s hard to imagine a more delightful way to spend an afternoon. The set is a moving sculpture containing dozens of hand-fashioned pieces in a rich, earthy color palette. At any given moment I could have frozen the frame, taken a photograph, and had a nice piece of art to hang on my wall. But of course I didn’t. I couldn’t look away.
The story is straightforward; anyone familiar with Fantasia, or the Goethe text, will be fine, but so will everyone else. The narrative is not cluttered with unnecessary steps, even though I might have been tempted to draw the story out myself, just to extend the wonder. As a result the piece is exactly the right length. As the apprentice’s skills increase, so do the visual surprises.
My advice for those who want to catch this production before it ends March 11th is to arrive at least 45 minutes early to get a seat close to the front. When I was there the theater was packed and I was a little too far back.
One last thing: I never thought I would be so fascinated to watch someone write on a chalkboard. Backwards.
Extended through March 11, 2012.
Open Eye Figure Theater (Minneapolis) Ticket info, Directions.
City Pages review of Sorcerer’s Apprentice at Open Eye
Twin Cities Daily Planet review of Sorcerer’s Apprentice at Open Eye
Star Tribune review of Sorcerer’s Apprentice at Open Eye (may require subscription)