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Hammergirl: Dramalogue

"Playwright Stephen Legawiec’s Hammergirl opens with a blank stage, with three staggered backdrops denoting Nordic fatalistic symbols. The curious circular painting on the stage floor – nine planets connected by a tree – is soon turned into a mystical, magical other- worldly playground for the telling of ancient Scandinavian myths. We will be told of a world before there were lines to make countries and there were no nationalities or races, only the "old ones." We will be told about the great "ancient war of revenge."

A narrator, Reciter (Kahn Moller) comes to circle’s center to begin the tale of the Hammergirl, with a background of mandolin music (Bob Applebaum). Finger-cymbals, exotic drums, dried seed rattles, and angelic voices, an ensemble gathers in powdered face and fanciful costumes. The ambience is so enchanting you immediately know that this will not be theater as usual and it isn’t.

In folklore of the kingdom of the great God Odin (Christina Taylor) even greater than the God Thor, two sisters, both princesses in waiting to be queen, are called upon to negotiate peace and settle an age-old feud. One sister, Hlin (Dana Wieluns) is mild in manner and simple in temperament. The other, Varhild (Nicolette Vajtay) is fierce and wild, a warrior.

Upon advice of court and Counselor (Tobe Sexton) they must travel to the land of the Trulls. An hysterically funny duo of one tall cycloptic Trull (Meg Peck) and a small counterpart (an adorable Candace Reid) serve as an introduction to the land and ultimately lead to the ferocious Trull King (Taylor). Further guidance is sought by a towering Prophetess (Reid) who speaks in an intriguing invented language that is translated by a little girl with a doll (Vanessa Mercado with Denise Johnson alternating the role). The quest for an elusive peace continues.

Perhaps not everyone’s cup of tea, Hammergirl is certainly an innovative exploration of a cultural road less traveled. The highly creative and stylized staging (Legawiec) coupled with fanciful costumes (Robert Velasquez with assistant Megan Hanna) and Beckie Kravetz’s beautifully expressive and dramatic masks, fabricates a world fitting for the storytelling of Norse Myths. Though many centuries apart and different in style and culture , it is somehow reminiscent of Kabuki Theater with its rich blendings of realism and ceremonial formalism; however, this production uses mostly women to play all the roles whereas Kabuki uses men."

- Dave DePino © Dramalogue, February 26 - March 4, 1998


Hammergirl: Los Angeles Times

"Founded in 1996, the fledgling (Ziggurat) Theatre shows an impressively mature grasp of stagecraft in "Hammergirl" at Glaxa.

Deirved from Norse legends, the play is largely the brainchild of (Ziggurat’s) co-founder Stephen Legawiec, who not only directs this production but also contributes most of the haunting original music, performed by mandolinist Bob Applebaum, that punctuates the action.

However, "Hammergirl" is very much a collaborative effort, workshopped over the course of several months by (Ziggurat’s) ensemble. The story chiefly concerns the travails and adventures of two princess sisters – one fierce, one mild – who must each confront and change her intrinsic nature to deliver their kingdom from an age-old blood feud with a race of giants.

Attempts to render a thumbnail etiology of Norse myth prove dramatically unwieldy at times. Despite turgid moments in the narrative, this epic effort has been luminously realized by Legawiec and a crack design team. Choregrapher Alisa Hawkins’ dance sequences are Kabuki-like exercises in form, Robert Velasquez’s costumes range from the austere to the whimsical. Lief Gantvoort’s lighting creates lambency on a budget, while Beckie Kravetz’s remarkable masks set the magical tone for the entire evening. Of the solid cast, Candace Reid is particularly striking as a prophetess called back from the dead to render a grim pronouncement."

F. Kathleen Foley, © Los Angeles Times, March 6, 1998

Hammergirl: LA Weekly "Pick of the Week"

"Between the gods’ heavenly dwelling and the murky underworld lies the most frightening place of all: Midgard, the cold Earth where noble, if barbaric humans and grotesque trolls struggle for dominance in a death feud as ancient as Norse mythology. Writer-director Stephen Legawiec’s stunning journey into Scandinavian fantasy and tradition reveals legend through simple narration, fanciful mime and mask-work, stylized acting and dance. When a king dies en route to presenting a peace offering to the trolls, his two daughters vie for the chance to take his place as savior of their people. Hlin (Dana Wieluns), a timid soul, easily succumbs to the cruelty and overweening pride of her older sister, Varhild (Nicolette Vajtay), who takes on the mantle of queen. Nevertheless they can only bring about harmony by working together. Disharmony is represented primarily by three trolls, hilariously played by Christina Taylor, Meg Peck and Candace Reid – each brilliantly acted with exaggerated body movements and screeching gibberish, as well as Beckie Kravetz’s frightening masks. Throughout, Bob Applebaum’s mandolin blends with ensemble percussion to provide Legawiec’s glorious and moving original score."

- Tom Provenzano, © LA Weekly, February 27-March 5, 1998

Ziggurat Theatre Ensemble
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