The title of “The Yeats Project” implies something workmanlike and studious, while the reality of “The Yeats Project” on the Irish Classical Theatre Company’s stage is the exact opposite. The show literally has wings.
Through an inspired collaboration with Lehrer Dance and Torn Space Theater, the spiritual voice of Yeats’ vision of Ireland comes vividly to life in two short plays by the celebrated poet – “The Land of Heart’s Desire” and “At the Hawk’s Well.”
Both tales are set in the country’s mystical realms of fairies and heroes, and both touch on the eternal dream of life everlasting.
Poet he was, but Yeats was even more dedicated to theater. It was there that he could re-create the influences of folklore and legend upon which his country draws its unique culture.
As in his poetry, the two plays here are lyrical and intense. The music of Mary Ramsey, Inga Yanoski and sound designer Todd Lesmeister is more like a character itself than a soundtrack for the performance. It awakens the heart and stirs the soul as the players’ dreams and fears are laid bare on the stage.
“Heart’s Desire” is a simple, cautionary folk tale of a young woman whose new marriage promises only drudgery and whose faith is one of duty. She finds a book that offers entry to the world of the fairies and meets a child who, it turns out, wants to be her guide there. Though her husband, family and a fearful clergyman desperately try to prevent the bewitchment, its power is too strong.
Yeats’ words get powerful reinforcement from Lehrer’s dancers, who evoke the pull of the earth and the promise of an eternal, enchanted youth. Using every limb and sinew to show the beauty of this rough land, they are a most impressive special effect.
The same is true in “Hawk’s Well,” although the dialogue is more straightforward and the lesson more blunt. David Oliver plays Old Man, who has exhausted the life he has waiting for a chance at life that never ends. He is the watcher at a spring that wells up for only a few second each year, and each year for 50 years the forces that guard the well conspire to keep him from touching the waters in time.
A new arrival, the warrior Cuchulain, is unfazed, believing it is within his power to overcome the Old Man, the guardians and all else that blocks his path and his desires. With his belts, his bravado and his spear, this fellow, played by Anthony Alcocer, embodies the recklessness of the youth that so many crave, and that costs so much.
The plays are concise, almost like fables. The ensemble work is natural and smooth – no star turns here, more like a shared experience. In addition to those mentioned, the cast includes Christian Brandjes, Mary McMahon, Arianne Davidow, Connor Graham, Gerry Maher and Faith Walh. Immanuel Naylor is appropriately fearsome as the Hawk guarding the well.
“The Yeats Project” is something different than the usual, wonderfully wordy dramas and comedies we see at ICTC, like looking out a new window in Ireland. Vincent O’Neill, Jon Lehrer, design director Dan Shanahan and costume designer Jessica Wegrzyn oversaw this excellent view.
By the way, though some of the dialogue might be sticky for youngsters, “The Yeats Project” has enough happening to serve as a good next step in the theatrical education for those about age 10 and up.
“The Yeats Project”
3 stars (out of four)
A collaboration of dance and drama suits two mystical plays by W.B. Yeats.
Presented by the Irish Classical Theatre, Lehrer Dance and Torn Space, 625 Main St., through May 8.
Tickets: $35 at 853-4282 or irishclassicaltheatre.com