Carlos Uriona and  Matthew Glassman in The UnPOSSESSED
(Photo © Jonathan Slaff)
Carlos Uriona and Matthew Glassman in
The UnPOSSESSED
(Photo © Jonathan Slaff)
A man emerges from underneath a large pile of books. Above him, another man hangs suspended on a strip of white cloth. On either side are two other figures, perched atop mobile platforms draped with cloth so that it appears that the individuals are enormously tall; they wave fans back and forth to ethereal musical accompaniment. Double Edge Theatre's The UnPOSSESSED begins with this arresting image. The Massachusetts-based company has gained a reputation over the last 20 years for stunning visual theater. Now making its New York debut, the troupe provides some spectacular stage pictures, but this offering is short on narrative cohesion.

Based on Miguel de Cervantes' The Adventures of Don Quixote, the production dramatizes different scenes from the epic novel about an idealistic (albeit delusional) knight-errant. Conceived and directed by Stacy Klein, it centers around Don Quixote (Carlos Uriona) and his faithful servant Sancho Panza (Matthew Glassman). Quixote was not, in fact, trained to be a knight; instead, he got the idea from books on chivalry and adventure. With his mental faculties addled, he goes out into the world to right wrongs and conduct heroic deeds. His hold on reality is so tenuous that he transforms the people and objects around him to suit his flights of fancy. Note that this description contains more exposition than is provided within the production. Those familiar with Cervantes' novel -- or at least with Man of La Mancha, the popular musical based upon it -- are at an advantage and will be able to follow along more easily, but those who have never encountered the story will no doubt be confused.

Though Uriona has a striking stage presence, he tends to mumble his lines. Glassman is dynamically engaging in terms of both acrobatic proficiency and consistent sense of character. Four additional ensemble members -- Richard Newman, Hayley Brown, Justin Handley, and Joanna Wichowska -- play a variety of roles. While physically proficient, they have a penchant for declaiming their lines in a manner that soon becomes tedious.

The entire show has a dream-like quality; the line between fantasy and reality is difficult to determine. Characters appear and disappear with scarcely an introduction, musical instruments are suddenly produced and played (the original compositions are by Justin Handley), and the adventures that Quixote and Sancho embark upon are related in a fragmentary manner at best. If one gives up on the idea that there should be a linear narrative, it's possible to enjoy the show for its individual parts. A shadow puppet performance that Quixote eventually disrupts is highly amusing, and the sight of the actors "flying" with the aid of swaths of white fabric used for circus aerial acts is mightily impressive. Performers roll into the space using large, round metal cow troughs, and the costumes (designed by Klein) have a salvage aesthetic that transforms items like an aviator's hat, an orange traffic sign, and a broom into the armor and weaponry of Don Quixote.

The UnPOSSESSED was originally performed on a former dairy farm in Ashfield, Massachusetts that now serves as the home to Double Edge Theatre. This allowed the company to be even more daring with its visuals, which apparently included fire breathing, throwing books from a hayloft, and diving into the waters of a frog pond. Moving the action entirely indoors has obviously put some constraints on the staging. But even if the more spectacular effects were included, the production would still be uneven.