Adapted and directed by Gregory Keng Strasser, “The Infinite Tales” at 4615 Theatre Company covers three of the four major periods recognized in Irish mythology. In this production, we have The Mythological Cycle, The Ulster Cycle and The Fenian Cycle. Altogether this play covers 900 years, focusing on themes of family and tribal loyalty, what it means to be human, what is identity and what home really is.
This is an intriguing show by a young company exploring the intersection of legend and humanity.
We follow four siblings—Finnoughla, the eldest and a daughter, and her three brothers, Aed, Fiachra and Conn—after they are cursed by their Aunt Aoife, who has come to wed their sea-king father, Lir. They are the descendants of the demi-god race Tuatha de Danann, a race before humankind rose to dominate. They were of a race of demi-gods before the Babylonians, the Greeks, the Egyptians rose and fell.
Aoife tricks their grieving father to let her take the children on a vacation to visit their grandfather and along the way curses them to be swans for 900 years—300 years in each of the major cycles.
But she leaves them an out—after 900 years, when a northern king marries a southern queen, at the time of the tolling of the wedding bells, if all four are together, the spell will be broken and they will revert to human form.
Upon her return to the king with a trumped-up tale of kidnapping, her lies are unmasked and Aoife, in turn, is cursed to be a demon gust of wind—for all eternity. But these two opposing forces will meet again and again, and become allies in a world that have forgotten them.
As Aoife, Amber A. Gibson takes what has evolved into a stock mythological and/or fairy tale figure—the wicked stepmother—and makes much more out of her. Of all the characters, hers is intended as the most despicable, and yet Gibson gives her a depth of humanity that is awe-inspiring. By the end of the cycles, she’s the one character who hasn’t made it completely about herself—she seeks only to serve. It’s a complex role, and Gibson makes the growth arc look effortless and inevitable.
All of the actors do very fine work with their characters—Jordanna Hernandez as Finnoughla; Niusha Nawab as Aed; Seth Rosenke as Fiachra (his steadiness was refreshing given his siblings’ tendency to hysterics); Emily Sucher as Conn; Melissa Carter as Dierdre and others; Steve Lebens as King Lir and others; Shaquille Stewart as Afraic and others; and DeJeanette Horne as Oisin and others who brought world-weary gravitas to each role he played.
Strasser, in his role as director, pares down the 900 years to a mostly manageable and chronological two hours. In the course of the drama, he helps lift the veil from the fairy-tale aspects of the myths and make a few pointed observations about the patriarchal, misogynist, and racist world that these demi-gods inhabited/created. As Finnoughla finally comes to realize at the end of her saga, it’s time for her kind to move on and into legend, to halt their divisiveness and time for the new races to come together in unity.
There are some puppets in the show—mostly stand-ins for the swans. The four mechanical-looking puppets are rather nifty works of what look like found materials that somehow manage to encapsulate the key traits of their non-swan counterparts. There are also what look like very large paper airplanes used in the stylized movements to indicate the swans flying every three hundred years to their next stop on the journey. I’m not sure why there were two sets of swan stand-ins used.
This is an intriguing show by a young company exploring the intersection of legend and humanity. This world premiere of very complicated source material was cunningly done, and it should be interesting to see what they come up with next.
Running Time: Two hours with one 10-minute intermission.
“The Infinite Tales” runs through December 29, 2019, produced by 4615 Theatre Company, performed at The Writer’s Center, Chevy Chase, MD. For more information, click here.