Splintered Idylls | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Splintered Idylls 

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SPLINTERED IDYLLS, Tangerine Arts Group, at the Preston Bradley Center for the Arts. It took Tennyson almost 30 years to complete his epic poem Idylls of the King, a sweeping take on Arthurian legend packed with themes and symbols: the work is like a massive tarot deck in which every knight, castle, tree, and chalice shimmers with meaning. Tennyson wasn't afraid to partially decode his allegory ("By King Arthur I always meant the soul," he wrote, "and by the Round Table the passions and capacities of a man"). But the poem's power comes from the way it keeps its deepest secrets--and from Tennyson's apocalyptic vision of human aspiration falling into ruin.

Devin Brain's ambitious but deeply flawed stage adaptation is opaque because of its conceptual clutter, not its poetic genius. Placing the action inside a big white tent with shadow figures projected on the walls, Brain has three stand-ins for Arthur, Lancelot, and Guinevere tear through Tennyson's text while the actual characters are disguised as contemporary audience members watching from elevated seats--until they break into a huge, inexplicable fight. Brain and his actors never establish the relationships among the three, so it's never clear why they're telling the tale or what they have invested in it. Instead of communicating a coherent narrative, the cast members spend all their energy on the story's extreme emotions.

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