Spotlight: Old Four Eyes: A Mississippi Panorama

While an afternoon show pitched at children might not exactly quicken the pulse, one written by Kevin Kling and directed by Open Eye Figure Theatre’s Michael Sommers promises something unique and appealingly weird. To wit, Old Four Eyes is a quasi-musical incorporating puppets, projections, and song to tell an oddball story of the Mississippi River. The show opens with the very old John Banvard (Steve Horstmann) tickling the ivories in the corner. He appears to be well past his sell-by date, until the Skipper (Crystal Spring) exhorts him to tell a story of his youth. Enter the young Banvard (Teresa Kramer), an arty dreamer who falls under the sway of Prof. Leaky (Briar De Haven)—who happens to be an anthropomorphic representation of the river. (Kling and Sommers previously collaborated at the Children’s Theatre on a show about Banvard, an artist who created a three-mile-long panoramic painting of the Mississippi, which was lost to history.) There’s a detour into the festering slum of Rat Town, and villainy in the form of Para Nunzio (Lisa Bol), who arrives with fantasies of exploitation. Kramer lends a light, wide-eyed take on Banvard—which enables other actors to go exploring into freaky territory. Bol, meanwhile, goes nicely over the top with camp menace (at one point she gets to shout the line “Hello little bunny!” while wielding a working chainsaw). And Xanthia Walker’s Bone Lady is a metaphysical scavenger capable of creeping out just about any age demographic in the room. By the time this hour is spent, a relatively simple story has brought out more baroque undertones, particularly the weird tints of mortality that lurk in the shadows and the ease with which Old Banvard departs this mortal coil. The children I saw the show with didn’t seem to know what to make of it, which in its way seemed to be a good sign. The trip into this particular dream is at times funny, at others wistful, and there’s always a sense that a surprise waits around the corner. It’s too idiosyncratic to be a conventional crowd-pleaser, but who’s looking for those, anyway?

 
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