Mirror of the Invisible World | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Mirror of the Invisible World 

MIRROR OF THE INVISIBLE WORLD, Goodman Studio Theatre. If Mary Zimmerman didn't have a career in theater, she could surely find work as a storybook illustrator. Her productions often seem to have come directly from the pages of some antique Eastern volume, with their shimmering saffron, turquoise, and crimson costumes, intricately painted sets, and fairy dust tumbling from the rafters. This exquisite adaptation of Nizami's Haft Paykar, a 12th-century Persian epic composed of seven stories, is a rapturous aesthetic marvel, more like a delicately woven tapestry or lacquered vase than a traditional theater production.

Suggestive of the Arabian Nights in theme and structure if not scope, the piece concerns a king who marries seven princesses, each of whom enchants him with an exotic tale of love. There's a certain similarity to the stories, but Zimmerman pulls out her bag of theatrical tricks to emphasize their singularity. She shifts effortlessly from dreadful images of fear, as in a horrifying journey into a haunted desert, to fanciful, hilarious ones, as one amorous couple is thwarted by falling pumpkins and a bloodthirsty tomcat.

Visually there's nothing to quarrel with in this superbly rendered and competently performed production, but on an intellectual level it's a rather slight effort, charming to behold but never much more challenging than youth story theater. By evening's end even the wittiest performances and most stunning images seem somewhat redundant, leaving the audience to agree all too heartily with one princess's assertion that there's "a time for storytelling and a time for rest." --Adam Langer

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