The enchanting surprise of the month, if not the season, is The Green Bird, the 1765 fairy-tale comedy by Carlo Gozzi. As translated by Albert Bermel and Ted Emery (with added prose by Eric Overmyer and lyrics by David Suehsdorf), choreographed by Daniel Ezralow, and graced with funky pastiche music by Elliot Goldenthal, this is sheer delight, made sheerer by Christine Jones’s sets, Constance Hoffman’s costumes, Donald Holder’s lights, and especially Julie Taymor’s masks, puppets, and staging.
Forgive my clobbering you with so many names, but credit must be given where it is due. In compensation, I’ll spare you the complicated plot wherein orphaned twins, Barberina and Renzo, flee their plebeian foster parents, Truffaldino and Smeraldina, to search for their true parents, King Tartaglia and his hapless queen, Ninetta, whom the wicked queen mother, Tartagliona, has imprisoned beneath the royal toilets. Tartagliona’s sidekick is the evil soothsayer Brighella (all these are commedia dell’arte names), and that is only half the cast. It also includes a talking giant sculptured head, a beautiful female statue that comes to life, a sorceress’s garden and an ogre’s mountain, tigerish monsters, singing apples, and dancing waters. And, of course, the eponymous Green Bird, fluttering frolicsomely.
If you think this is kiddie stuff, think again. It is really for adults, although children will get enough of it to enjoy it, too. It is as much social satire as fairy story, as much comedy of manners as giddy farce. The adapters have sneaked in funny contemporary references without disrespect to Gozzi’s honored bones, and a cast that looks equally good with and without masks acts up enough of a storm for a banquet set of teacups. Everyone here is delicious, but I must single out Didi Conn’s pungent Smeraldina, Derek Smith’s hilarious Tartaglia, Edward Hibbert’s most waspish queen Tartagliona, and Andrew Weems’s quick-change artistry in a passel of roles. Also Lee Lewis, for being the loveliest of statues that ever came to life, and possibly even of those that didn’t. Though more modest in scale than Miss Taymor’s other triumph, the song of the Bird is sweeter, smarter, and subtler than the roar of the Lion.