When Hans, a handsome but not-so-smart knight-errant of Wittenstein, meets the unbridled naiad Ondine at a fisherman’s cottage in the woods, they fall recklessly in love and marry—a union that is not possible for beings from two different realms. Compounding the troubles of the ill-fated couple is Bertha, a cultivated princess betrothed to Hans, who sent him on his life-altering quest through the forest, and The Old One, who enforces a fatal pact that seals their destinies. Enchantment, romance, humor, and tragedy characterize Jean Giraudoux’s ONDINE of 1939 (based on the German Romantic novella UNDINE of 1811), and the Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium’s charming production captures all the magic, heartache, and absurdity of love, as well as the inescapable realities of the established social order, the world, and life itself, in this rarely-performed classic.
The multi-talented and singularly brilliant Aaron Cromie directs a cast of eleven live actors, along with assorted puppets, shadows, and cut-outs (which he also created, inspired by the black-and-white Art Nouveau illustrations of Aubrey Beardsley), in a storybook setting and a play-within-a-play format that combines poetic myth and symbolism with the brutal actualities of love and loss, and nature versus human nature. Though the themes are deadly serious, Cromie’s touch is as light and lyrical as the movements of a water sprite, while never losing a firm grip on the important moral lessons inherent in all good fairytales. He seamlessly shifts moods, from the comic playfulness of Act I to the haunting melancholy of Act II, leaving the audience brimming with thought and emotion at the final curtain.
Newcomers to the IRC Andrew Carroll (Hans) and Ama Bollinger (Ondine) are a delight as the mismatched couple; his knight-errant is laughably human, haughty and muddled, and her elemental creature is a true force of nature, acting with total abandon and bringing both passion and ethereality to the title character. The well-cast Bollinger’s native French accent further serves to distinguish Ondine, an outsider in the earthly sphere, from the mortals with whom she interacts. Standouts among the supporting cast are IRC regulars Tina Brock as the blustery and vertically challenged King; Ethan Lipkin as the philosophizing Judge; Robb Hutter as the comically urbane Lord Chamberlain; and a commanding Susan Giddings in the patriarchal role of The Old One/The Illusionist.
IRC’s artistic design contributes immeasurably to the mythic spirit of the story, with bewitching sound (Adriano Shaplin) and lighting (Matt Sharp), and alluring sets (Lisi Stoessel) and costumes (Jillian Keys), all evocative of a fairytale. February 5-March 2, 2014; http://idiopathicridiculopathyconsortium.org.