The Alchemy of Tulips | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

The Alchemy of Tulips 

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THE ALCHEMY OF TULIPS, Ravenous Productions, at the Storefront Theater. Writer-director Joseph Ravens uses dance, text, and screen images to tell the story of a 17th-century market disaster in Holland caused by speculation in tulip bulbs--a sort of tulips.com phenomenon. This seemingly dry economic event provides some beautiful themes and tales: Ravens makes the tulip a metaphor for the idealized woman and shares the true story of an innkeeper's orphans, who save the family by selling their late father's prize bulbs. There's no linear structure, but each vignette or dance sequence nicely draws out each narrative's humanity, whether it expresses rapture, greed, conquest, or loss.

However, the last third of this 90-minute piece becomes tedious because Ravens keeps retreading the same emotional turf. He also fails to resolve some issues, like a conflict between the goddess Flora and a mysterious mud-covered man (played by Ravens). The uneven acting doesn't help: some performers are visceral and nuanced while others are stilted and soulless. Despite a crisp, precise execution and clever video projections (which might be more effective if less grainy), it seems there's something missing from this production. Ravens and his cast need to dig deeper to find their show's inner life, its most glorious blooms.

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