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Rachel Dickstein's trio of short plays about love is exciting, visually stimulating theater.

Mahira Kakkar in Betrothed
(© Rachel Dickstein)
In Betrothed, a new triptych of short plays conceived, written, and directed by Rachel Dickstein at the Ohio Theatre, we are treated to the highly theatrical stories of three different women on the verge of holy matrimony as adapted from classic works of literature. The result is exciting, visually stimulating theater, performed on a limited financial budget, but with an unlimited amount of creativity and energy.

None of these three women end up at the altar in any sort of traditional way, but that is not to say that they do not find love and/or fulfillment. These are stories that challenge assumptions, rituals, and conventions about the meaning of true love.

The Treatment of Bib Haldar, based on the short story by Jhumpa Lahiri, concerns an epileptic young girl (Mahira Kakkar) who has fervent dreams of marriage, but is isolated from the world by her narrow-minded relatives. Using nothing more than long, billowing panels of silk and mesmerizing lighting design by Nicole Pearce, the talented ensemble swirl around the innocent and forlorn young Bibi to create everything from her joyful fantasies to her painful fits. It's this self-same panoply of color and purposefully stylized storytelling that allows for the wonderfully mysterious finale that cures Bibi of her epilepsy.

The middle story, which is the weakest of the three, is based on Anton Chekov's The Betrothed. In this most modern of stories, a young woman named Nadya (Lula Graves) from a well-to-do family is about to marry a rich young man who is also of her class and station. She has dreams of the perfect life with her young man and charts those dreams on large glass panels on moveable frames that soon are maneuvered by the ensemble to swirl around the expansive stage much like the silk panels from the previous story. Nadya is swayed from her course by a visiting professor who, somewhat heavy-handedly, eats an apple as he exhorts her to educate herself and leave this vapid world behind.

The final piece, which is based on The Dybbuk by S. Ansky, is a story of otherworldly passion in which Chonen, a poor young scholar (Derek Lucci) falls in love with Leah (Paula McGonagle) only to find that she is promised by her father to another. His only path to his great love is through the dark art of the Kaballa. He kills himself so that he might come to her as a spirit and possess her soul. And she is most willing to accept him, except the Rabbi has other ideas.

Lucci is suitably intense as the young man in love, while McGonagle possesses a ripe sensuality that makes her desire more than credible. Stealing the show, however, is Daniel Irizarry who plays the Dybbuk through whom Chonen tries to possess Leah. Irizarry's physical performance is nothing less than astonishing.

All three pieces of Betrothed feature live music for cello, flute, and electronics written by Vijay Iyer. The score adds immeasurably to the immediacy of the evening, as does the choreography created by Dickstein in collaboration with the ensemble which totals nine expressive and dedicated performers.

In short, these three pieces are an artful expression of theater's potential for elegant communication.


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