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November 21, 2011

Aurora Theatre Courtesy photo



The story of the Soldier and the Devil came about in 1918. There have been many versions of this Russian folk tale about a soldier and a Devil and a card game. The Devil wins all the Soldiers money – and by letting the Devil win, the Soldier is freed from the Devils power. 

At The Aurora Theatre they tried to make it even more bizarre by using a puppet (which has been done before). It was absolutely ludicrous to have a four-foot puppet being manipulated by a gigantic woman standing behind the soldier with her hands in his innards to move his arms and legs.

The mixed media performance reminds me of the High School Plays that I had to endure -- starting with “Peter and the Wolf.” Why the Drama Teacher thought that these were great ideas – I’ll never know. Like “The Soldier’s Tale” they were nothing but an evening of boredom.

The best part of the evening was Stravinsky’s music. I just wish there was more of it. We were promised a mixed media show of Dance, Music and drama. The dancing was jerky; the music was spare -- and the drama? Well, it was missing. Hard as the cast worked, it only led to a vacuum of nothingness.

This nightmare of a story about a shell shocked Soldier did one thing…it shell shocked me. And that’s only one of the things that this play did to me.

If screaming were allowed in the Theatre – I was close to it. Everything seemed to me to be tacky. The sets did not thrill me (they were spare) the puppet was such a bore that I went into shell shock and remained in a catatonic state of confusion for hours after I left the Theatre.

The Aurora Theatre seems to have missed the point with this one. However, there is a surreal nightmarish tinge to the evening, as the musical performances keep a delicate balance that brings out fierce beauty and intense chilling moments. 

Book by C.F. Ramuz (English version by Donald Pippin.

THE CAST: L. Peter Callender, Muriel Maffre and Joan Mankin. Marvelous acting by all.

DIRECTED BY: Muriel Maffre and Tom Ross. Musical Arrangement by Jonathan Khuner based on Igor Stravinsky’s 1918 musical work.



(((Lee Hartgrave has contributed many articles to the San Francisco Chronicle Sunday Datebook and he has produced and hosted a long-running Arts Segment on PBS KQED))) 
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