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Winterquest: Backstage West

We ponder the imponderable. Does the spider spin its web to live, or does it live to spin? Poets and playwrights spin webs of magic and moonlight because they must. Playwright, poet, musical composer, visual artist, and director Stephen Legawiec spins his fables of legend and lore, not for fame and fortune but because he must. In this latest gift from Ziggurat Theatre Company, Orpheus and Eurydice meet Wynken, Blynken, and Nod; Greek myth rubs shoulders with Mother Goose, and common folk from Bryggen, "a small village on the ocean," encounter bizarre characters from terra incognita. Each year a mysterious tribute ship of "gold like the Pharaoh's" sails into harbor bringing Christmas to Bryggen. One year seafaring mapmaker Orville Scribbet's wife, Eurydell, walks out of the house and is seen no more. The ship no longer comes to harbor. Bryggen turns bleak; Orville turns sour and becomes a hermit.

Orpheus descended into Hades looking for Eurydice; Orville ventures out in quest of Eurydell. Sunk in misery, he must be forced to do so by three clowns, magical boat-builder Bastaglio, and a wonderful flying ship. With Nobbli, Fobbli, and Boo, Orville sails off "in a wooden shoe one night, sails on a river of crystal light, into a sea of dew" and adventures in strange places. Dean Purvis is a somber and stony Orville; he loves his wife but he's always off at sea. Pensive Eurydell wanders away. As Eurydell, Jenny Woo doesn't get to use her awesome movement skills, or do anything but stand and look lovely in auburn curls and a rich velvet gown of sea-foam green, with an endearing dimple in her right cheek. Spunky, good-hearted clowns Nobbli, Fobbli, and Boo wear half masks and, played by Jill Lawrence, Beverly Sotelo, and Dana Wieluns, are determinedly cheerful.

James Jaeger sings powerfully well as Bastaglio, maker of boats and dreams. Amanda Karr as a gallant, lonely Countess sings poignantly of bygone days with fine doings and boon companions. She begs them to stay, to come again. AnnaLisa Erickson's canny Cockney Mrs. Quince, "dealer in rare commodities," makes points impressively. Michelle Tanazas sings beautifully as inexorable Time and plays a forlorn maiden mourning her mother's death, under the thumb of her father, Mueen Ahmad's stern Bulgar.

Rich costumes by Robert Velasquez, music by Susan Christiansen, lighting by Leif Gantvoort, and especially Legawiec's set of clean lines and lustrous hues inspired by Maxfield Parrish paintings are aesthetically pleasing. Eurydell, back from a dark place, wanderers safe at home, the tribute ship's gilded prow glides into harbor bringing Christmas back to Bryggen. Is all well once more? We hope so. But Ziggurat feels the chill of zeitgeist. A wistful melancholy hovers over all, and this brave company greets the blessed season with staunch heart, goodwill, and all the merriment it can muster.

--Polly Warfield

Winterquest: LA Times

Orpheus myth's meaningful update

Vivid intelligence distinguishes "Winterquest," receiving its world premiere by the Ziggurat Theatre Ensemble at the Gascon Center Theatre in Culver City.

Writer-director Stephen Legawiec refashions the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice into a holiday odyssey of notable refinement.

The setting is the ocean-side village of Bryggen, where cartographer Orville Scribbet (Dean Purvis) dwells with wife Eurydell (Jenny Woo). Their idyllic existence is threatened by Orville's wanderlust, causing his housebound spouse to disappear during a curtain-shopping excursion.

When Bryggen's seasonal tributary boat fails to appear on schedule, three commedia-masked artisans (Jill Lawrence, Beverly Sotelo and Dana Wieluns) enlist the embittered Orville to help them find it. Their airborne journey shapes a regenerative Christmas parable, summed up by Eurydell's locket inscription: "The heart's terrain is vast and unsounded/But love's a torch, clearing wide a sacred field for miracles."

Legawiec's staging is imaginative, with his set, Robert Velasquez's costumes, Beckie Kravitz's masks and Leif Gantvoort's lighting consistent in their homage to Maxfield Parrish.

The strong-voiced ensemble is most endearing. Purvis recalls the young William Converse-Roberts, well-matched to Woo's graceful Eurydell. The three clowns are superbly expressive and funny, and their colleagues are uniformly fine.

There are discrepancies. The muted visuals, though admirable, fall short of full-blown wonder, with the tribute ship's eventual appearance underpowered.

Such sparseness, along with composer Susan Christiansen's emphasis on ballads and the bittersweet narrative, may prove challenging for wee attention spans. Their elders, however, should revel in such charming, meaningful family fare.

-- David C. Nichols

Winterquest: LA Weekly

With a charming production, writer-director Stephen Legawiec’s Christmas fable-romance marks a refreshing addition to customary yuletide faire, drawing its inspiration from Maxfield Parrish and the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice.

We are in Bryggen, "a small village on the ocean," where cartographer Orville Scribbet (Dean Purvis) lives with his wife, Eurydell (Jenny Woo). Seemingly all is well, but his frequent absences dispirit her, and she suddenly walks out. Alone and miserable, Orville is visited by three masked, clownish characters named Nobbli (Jill Lawrence), Fobbli (Beverly Sotelo) and Boo (Dana Wieluns), who pester him into joining them on a trip to find a lost treasure ship in time for Christmas. Along the way, they encounter a glib shakedown artist (AnnaLisa Erickson), a loony Countess (Amanda Karr), and an imperious Bulgar (Mueen Ahmad) and his melancholy daughter, Annabelle (Michelle Tanazas). The adventurous quartet eventually succeeds, and the saga glides to an appropriately cheery ending.

The 90-minute piece plays out on Jeff McLaughlin’s staid wood-paneled set with a raised, patiolike center piece and "Parrish blue" backdrop. In addition to the ensemble’s smooth work, one of the more appealing elements is Susan Christiansen’s original musical compositions, flawlessly performed by the cast. Also included in the musical lineup are Christmas staples like "O’ Come Emmanuel" and "Adeste Fideles." Robert Velasquez’s eye-catching mélange of costumes are equally impressive.

--Lovell Estell III


It's been awhile since we've had a new Christmas tale in the true, old fashioned tradition. Writer/director Stephen Legawiec, of the award winning Ziggurat Theatre Ensemble, used as his inspiration for his new work, Winterquest, the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice and the enchantingly ethereal paintings of Maxfield Parrish.

The story goes like this: in the little, coastal village of Bryggen, an annual Christmas event brings the residents together in joy and friendship. The event is the arrival of a large tribute ship loaded with gifts. One of the inhabitants of the tiny burg is Orville Scribbet (Dean Purvis). Orville's work keeps him traveling about the world, leaving his lonely wife, Eurydell (Jenny Woo) to grow lonelier. He does, however, always return for the holidays and the arrival of the gift ship. One day, upon his return from distant lands, Eurydell leaves to go get new curtains, never to return. Orville goes into seclusion.
Many years pass. One Christmas, a major upheaval takes place in the village; the tribute ship does not come. Three local, clown-like craftsmen, Nobbli, Fobbli and Boo (Jill Lawrence, Beverly Sotelo and Dana Wieluns, respectively) trick Orville into captaining a smaller boat to go find the missing Christmas ship. As the mystical fable unfolds, the little vessel becomes airborne and the magical adventures and misadventures commence, culminating in a moral for everyone to take home with them.

This is pleasant, holiday entertainment for the entire family. The highly stylized and uniformly fine tuned performances, under the baton of the extremely creative maestro Legawiec, are a delight, especially the three clowns wearing splendidly expressive masks (designed by Beckie Kravitz). The script is as playful in its use of comedy and tragedy as the visually lively staging is. Half the cast does double and triple duty in role playing. The players: James Jaeger, Mueen Ahmad, Amanda Karr, AnnaLisa Erickson, Michelle Tanazas (vocals) and Sam Ebnet. Susan Christiansen (original music), Mary Kate Karr (musical director), Legawiec (set), Leif Gantvoort (lights) and Robert Velasquez (costumes) make up the competent design team.

--Dave DePino

Ziggurat Theatre Ensemble
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