Los Angeles Times
was reading this book about archeology…’ So begins creator-director
Stephen Legawiec’s casual introduction to "Ninshaba"
at Glaxa Studios.
literate and personalized opening than ‘once upon a time,’
perhaps, but it ushers us into a theatrical world every bit as fanciful
and imaginative as any fairy tale. With an innovative mix of narrative,
mime, dance and costuming (Ziggurat) Theatre company makes an obscure
Near East myth into something inviting and familiar.
perch amid piles of texts, papers, and percussive instruments, Legawiec
explains that his play originated in clay tablets from the ancient Turkish
city of Ugarit, unearthed in Syria in the 1920s. The tablets contain
the only complete version of a legendary young woman’s journey
from her plague-ridden homeland to seek her unknown mother. Before each
episode, Legawiec summarizes the contents of the appropriate tablet.
a story that’s been related for 4,000 years before it was ever
written down, and it comes to us with individual details burnished into
archetypal elements through countless re-tellings.
that timeless sense, the company invented a pleasing, nonsensical language,
with which the performers skillfully combine expressive movements to
make their meaning clear. Occasional narration from Legawiec and a three-member
chorus fill in any gaps.
of Ninshaba (limber, eloquent Candace Reid) follows a familiar mythic
pattern. In the midst of a fever comes a vision that propels the maiden
to seek her lost mother in a distant land. Accompanied by Quaqsaya,
a mischievous, mercurial spirit, (amusingly rendered by Dana Wieluns
in the best commedia tradition), Ninshaba faces numerous perils and
temptations in her wandering.
the encounters symbolize critical life passages. An elegant, handsome
suitor (Angela Backman) nearly seduces Ninshaba to marry despite Quaqsaya’s
hilarious efforts to cool her friend’s ardor. A grieving mother,
preying on Ninshaba’s good heart, coaxes her into joining her
daughter’s funeral procession – until Ninshaba realizes
that the face of the dead girl is her own.
narration, Legawiec makes much of the puzzling seventh tablet, describing
a seemingly unrelated harvest dance by a fertility goddess (Reid). Coming
on the heels of the death episode, the theme of regeneration in this
short interlude resonates even if it doesn’t advance the plot.
(And, of course, it establishes the prehistoric origins of the seventh
characters are evoked with the help of Beckie Kravetz’s exotic
masks. Among the most striking is a regal, mouse-headed guardian who
tests Ninshaba’s integrity with a series of probing questions.
As in all
such myths, Ninshaba’s journey is ultimately one of self discovery.
Yet the relative rarity of her being a woman-hero engenders some variation
– there’s less emphasis on combat, and instead of having
to do battle with the parent figure, the point of her quest is a mother
and daughter reunion sweet enough for a Hallmark card."
Brandes, © Los Angeles Times, March 13, 1997
Ninshaba: LA Weekly "Pick of the Week"
Reid plays Ninshaba, a young woman living in ancient Turkey who embarks
upon an arduous and transforming journey across a desert to find Queen
Asherah, Ninshaba’s mother whom she never knew. En route, she
endures a sword-wielding magician as well as the seductions of a fabulously
attired suitor, and she must convince the gatekeeper of Asherah’s
mountain to allow her to pass. Under Stephen Legawiec’s elegant
economic direction, (Ziggurat) Theatre Company’s production traces
Ninshaba’s odyssey by harnessing mime, music, dance, and an ancient
language – Ugarit. The tale is possibly 6000 years old, was retold
orally for 4000, and it comes down to us in a series of 10 stone tablets
dating merely from 1400 B.C. Legawiec remains in modern dress at the
side of the stage to narrate, sing and drum. His approach is to summarize
the contents of each tablet several times , and thus the story’s
rendering almost entirely in an ancient, cryptic language is never a
barrier. A chorus, or kadin (Daryl Dickerson, Hep Jamieson, and Myrtle
Wood), adds melodious texture to many of the tableaux, as do compelling
performances by Reid and the supple Dana Wieluns (as both Queen Asherah,
and Quaqsaya, a proto-Harlequin figure who accompanies the heroine).
Beckie Kravetz’s marvelous masks and Robert Velasquez’s
gorgeous costumes are the cornerstone of the accomplished technical
work. In short, Ninshaba is an unexpected theatrical treasure, transporting
us with elemental storytelling and revealing a fragment of world heritage."
B. Cohen, © LA Weekly, March 7-13, 1997