A happy paradox: Sometimes, the more machinery you throw onstage—wires and harnesses and stagehands and puppets—the more complete the illusion seems. At NYU last week, Red Beads, by the indefatigable Mabou Mines, packed the stage with every kind of apparatus. Director Lee Breuer related the story of a girl’s spooky coming of age by assembling singers, aerialists, puppeteers, an orchestra, and an actor or two. Basil Twist designed flying puppets, creating the airborne sequel to his recent aquatic extravaganza: Call it Symphonie Diabolique. The results—a billowing landscape of silk and wind, dances that defy gravity—were often entrancing.
Still, Red Beads shows the limits of virtuosity. The stage pictures, however pretty, generated no dramatic punch, nothing to remember beyond how they looked. Add some opening-night logistical difficulties and a perilously thin script, and even a 90-minute show can feel interminable. In the end, the most successful special effect was Mabou Mines co-founder Ruth Maleczech, who played the girl’s nefarious mother. By sitting very still and cackling like a mad thing, she upstaged all the trickery swooping above her. I have a dark suspicion that long after the show’s imagery is forgotten, I’m going to be hearing that laugh—still fresh in my mind, still scary as hell.