Berkeley Rep’s wildly wonderful Bride

Dec 08

EXTENDED THROUGH JAN. 22!
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HERE COMES THE BRIDE! Stuart Goodwin is the King and Patrycja Kujawska is one incarnation of the title character in the Kneehigh production of The Wild Bride at Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s Roda Theatre. Photo by Steve Tanner. Below: Audrey Brisson (left), Stuart McLoughlin (on the bass), Stuart Goodwin and Éva Magyar revel in the glorious music and dance of this extraordinary Bride. Photo courtesy of kevinberne.com

Such joy. Such wicked, delicious, heart-pounding joy.

That’s what it feels like at the end of The Wild Bride, the dark fairy tale come to life on Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s Roda stage. This is, without question, the great treat of the holiday theater season (though it’s not really for kids younger than about 13, what with the mutilations, the sex and the devilish nature of the show).

Here comes the Bride indeed – in the most unexpectedly charming and poignant fashion you can imagine. Director/adaptor Emma Rice and Kneehigh, the quirky troupe from Cornwall, England, are blessedly back in the Bay Area, where they previously triumphed with their dynamic adaptation of Noel Coward’s Brief Encounter at American Conservatory Theater a couple seasons back. May they keep coming back. And back.

Rice’s enchanting Wild ride takes a long look at the life of a woman who continually triumphs over the kind of adversity that could only be caused by the bedeviling interference of the Devil himself. When a slightly soused father (Stuart Goodwin) thinks he’s outsmarted the Devil (Stuart McLoughlin in a welcome return after shining in Brief Encounter), he sets in motion what should be a life of misery for his daughter.

To give you an idea of just how dark this story is, at one point the young woman’s hands are cut off – it’s so Shakespearean! – but it’s all done with theatrical flair with no hint of gore or pesky realism.

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The daughter, whose name we never know, hardly speaks, but she’s incredibly communicative and she’s played at three different stages of her life by the three women of the company. As a young woman, Audrey Brisson brings sweet defiance to the role and raises the bar on wildness. In her middle stage, the woman is played by Patrycja Kujawska and is so compelling you can hardly take your eyes off her (when not playing the woman, Kujawska plays a sweet, sweet violin). And then in the later years, the woman is inhabited by Éva Magyar, whose expressive dancing (of Etta Murfitt’s choreography) is so powerful it’s just leagues beyond language.

Brief Encounter was wonderful and complex and very commercial, but Wild Bride feels organically wild, bold and brave and full of the kind of sights, sounds and stories that make theater the most thrilling art form on the planet. Brief Encounter was beautiful and restrained. The Wild Bride is unrestrained and magnificent. Rice and her performers (we also have musician Ian Ross playing multitudes of instruments, often at the same time) dazzle us with humor, surprise us with movement and blow us away with the sheer force and imagination of their storytelling.

Music is a big part of the Kneehigh recipe. Every performer contributes in some way to the score (lyrics by Carl Grose), with the lion’s share of the musical bliss coming from the sweet-voiced McLoughlin, the Devil himself. Brisson also contributes a beguiling voice and some mean accordion chops.

There’s nothing fancy about Bill Mitchell’s set – there’s an apple tree made of ladders and scaffolding – but it springs to life under Malcolm Rippeth’s lights, but it just goes to show you that with light to help paint stage pictures and intriguing humans inhabiting a captivating story, you don’t need bells and whistles.

An involving story is key, and this tale, shot through with darkness and misery though it is, yields such well-earned happiness that it’s hard to disconnect. Mercifully, the curtain call is a joy all its own.

If only dancing and singing with the devil could be this entertaining and soul-satisfying in real life.

[bonus video]

FOR MORE INFORMATION
Kneehigh’s The Wild Bride continues an extended run through Jan. 22 at Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s Roda Theatre, 2015 Addison St., Berkeley. Tickets are $14.50-$73. Call 510-647-2949 or visit www.berkeleyrep.org.

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