Salamander Stew

nytheatre.com review by Will Fulton
August 15, 2011

Salamander Stew is a hallucinatory journey into the the subconscious of the recently heartbroken Steven. Playwright Michael Fixel's script (deemed unperformable when it was written about 30 years ago) tells the story of Steven's brief but passionate affair with Susan, and the subsequent emotional fallout is depicted through tightly-choreographed dance and chanted poetry as his journey through a magical forest populated by elves and gnomes with questionable intent.

The piece is exceptionally well-rehearsed, with co-directors Juliet Fixel and Ron Shreve's compelling choreography being masterfully executed by the universally strong dancers. The ensemble's deep investment in the piece is obvious and stands out among the sometimes minimal production values of Fringe shows. The ever-present sound design (uncredited—presumably done by the directors) is generally quite effective, though its sense of romance verges on schmaltz, and is marred by a handful of distractingly recognizable cues in pivotal scenes.

The piece could afford to perhaps take itself slightly less seriously. Leotarded elves dancing around an intimate downtown venue are inherently kind of hilarious. That in no way detracts from their ultimate allegorical value, but because the show is played so straight, the audience found itself unsure of whether we were allowed to laugh for a significant portion of the show. A more apparent and earlier winking acknowledgment of the piece's comedic value might allow people to relax into it more readily, and counterintuitively more readily accept its more serious elements.

Tonal quibbles aside, Salamander Stew is a refreshingly unique experience with a confident sense of itself, performed virtuosically by a talented and committed ensemble.

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