nytheatre.com review by Sara Thigpen
August 10, 2008
Boots, by Giacondo Trevellini, is an intriguing bit of storytelling. Part traditional folktale, part Greek tragedy, Boots attempts to layer these storytelling methods to elevate a personal journey of discovery to the status of myth—a compelling idea that mostly satisfies, but finishes more academically than viscerally.
The pre-show strains of bluegrass and simple set of crates and cinder blocks create an earthy, cozy atmosphere. But as the lights dim, frantic whispers of an oncoming threat build and we realize this peaceful place is under attack. A young woman struggles with a faceless man, and as he departs, a conventional prologue of elevated verse unfolds and we discover "The Eastern Man" has declared war on this mythic Green Mountain for generations.
We also learn that out of the aforementioned act of violence, Tiny is born. And the young woman, Pyra, unable to endure her state or the sight of her child, leaves him in the care of Lem, a plain-talking and secretive war hero on Green Mountain, and then takes her own life. Pyra transforms into the vengeful spirit who periodically returns to narrate the overwrought mythical portions of the play, espousing fate as man's destiny. What follows illustrates, with the aid of some very effective mask work, the ancient warfare of these tribal people, all the while relating this larger story to the more personal tale relayed by Tiny, his caretaker Lem, and the beautiful, young, Jule as they seek to fulfill their desires and strive to exercise their free will and change the bleak outcome detailed in the myth.
The dialogue in the present-day sequences is wonderful: simple, fluid, and straightforward. Tiny's coming-of-age story, though not new, seems fresh in the hands of these capable actors. Clifford Rivera, in particular, imbues Lem with an unassuming command that solidly grounds the play. Especially poignant in writing, staging, and performance is Lem's advice to Tiny once the boy chooses his path: "Don't let it sneak up on you." A desperate plea that is lost on the young, rash Tiny.
The poetic narrative is more difficult as it seems unnecessary. Perhaps it is the limitations of the space that keep these passages from full realization. There were also, I believe, some technical difficulties as the show progressed. Scene changes were made in full stage light making it difficult to tell if the blurring of characters and plot lines was meaningful. In the production I saw, it simply appeared to be a mistake.
This did not diminish my enjoyment of the fine work I saw. The show is well-paced and presents a bracing viewpoint in regard to war, that those who participate aren't always manipulated by propaganda or politics, but by his/her own natural inclination, warring passion and compassion.