Elisabeth Daniels and Renoly Santiago in Parrot at the Flea Theater.
For their 30th anniversary season, The Talking Band remains true to its mission of creating new works in musical theater, works that always push the envelope.
Were coming from the experimental tradition, says writer and lyricist, Paul Zimet, whos been collaborating with wife, musician Ellen Maddow, since before The Talking Band was formed.
Were really all about good storytelling combined with poetic, political theater.
The Bands current project, The Parrot, is a new departure - the first time theyre working for a younger, family audience and theyre listed as the main event for The Flea Theaters Give Us Your Children Festival, running through February.
The couple are members of New Dramatists. About two years ago, they got a commission for a joint project with the Childrens Theater in Minneapolis to create sophisticated work for a younger audience. We developed this piece in Minneapolis, and later in New York. Representatives of the Flea came to see a reading and were interested and they decided to do a co-production for the festival.
The Parrot comes from an old, Italian folk tale that Zimet found in a Calvino collection. He used it as a springboard, and wrote his own contemporary version about a sixteen year-old girl living in Queens.
The structure is like The Arabian Nights, notes the writer, with stories within stories. The girl, Bela, is home alone, after her mother has gone off on a business trip. Outside, theres a rich boy, B.B. Jr., who is trying to court her. A talking parrot comes through the window (We use a large, parrot-sized puppet), and starts telling Bela stories. At the end of each one, B.B. keeps trying to get in, but the parrot fends him off.
According to Zimet, the living room is transformed and Bela becomes the center of each story. Its a musical complete with parrot chorus and refrigerator ladies, accompanied by Blue Gene Tyranny on keyboard, and the reunion of last years Obie winning design team from The Talking Band production, Painted Snake in a Painted Chair.
I have two kids, and my 22 year-old daughter is the model for this, said Zimet. I wrote something entertaining, but it doesnt talk down to young people. The costumes are quite imaginative, and though its a very theatrical piece, I believe that theater for a young audience should just be good theater. Its an hour long and moves very quickly. The Flea is a small space, so how to make all these changes happen? We use a skrim, a lot of lights, 150 cues, and the balcony. Weve used every bit of space.
Although The Parrot is all about keeping young people amused, there is also a particular political side to the show.
The girl in this is very feisty, independent and unlike the original Italian story, Zimet stresses. She doesnt just accept the guy. Shes got her own ideas of what shes going to do.
Its also all about these stories, he adds, like the round sung at the end. It is told and retold/ told and retold/ one story seems to end and a new one unfolds/ Then its told and retold/ told and retold.
Its about how one can view ones life as a never ending story. The stories are an alternative to the other world of material things, and they are very powerful.