Last night, the PlayGround Theatre, which prides itself in bringing unique and innovative stories to the stage for all ages, unveiled the world premier of their latest foray into myth and fantasy with The Red Thread.
Taking inspiration from a Chinese folktale called "The Magical Embroidery," co-writers Stephanie Ansin (who also directs) and Fernando Calzadilla, have created an original fantasy rich in Chinese mysticism, magic, and wonder. At the center of the splendid and fluid production is a simple,
universal tale of a young Chinese girl, Ling Shih, who goes on a magical
Ling sets off on an arduous and lengthy
trek across China in order to save her father's grand masterpiece -- a
tapestry he's been meticulously working on for years. She crosses
different kingdoms and eventually is forced to climb the Kunlun Mountain
where she meets a mystic who helps her on her quest.
This is where the story takes on the familiar student/teacher theme we've seen countless times in myth, martial arts films, and, of course, movies like Star Wars. But the formula works thanks to the story's potent narrative. The audience becomes emotionally attached to Ling's desperate quest, and it's here that she goes from youngest daughter of a peasant Chinese weaver to hero. The mystic has her go through a series of tests to sharpen her intelligence and will power, while teaching her the importance of patience and finding solutions through meditation and contemplation.
One of the tests include Ling having to solve a tangram -- an ancient Chinese puzzle that consists of seven dissected shapes that form specific figures or forms -- sort of a giant magical Rubik's Cube.
When Ling completes her challenges, the mystic rewards her with a jade horse sculpture that comes to life and flies her across the skies to help her complete her quest. He sends her off with a warning and a prophecy. Ling must find her father's tapestry by sunrise, or else the infirm man will die. And should the tapestry be completed, life as Ling knows it, will change forever.
It's a rare and beautiful story, and the production is an organic display of Chinese culture, myth and history with music, sound effects and magnificent visuals made possible by gorgeous set pieces that include rope bridges, a cave and a gorgeous Chinese palace and village. The story is also told through the use of shadow puppets (another ancient Chinese tradition). Christina Jun puts on a stalwart performance as the vulnerable but heroic Ling, and Troy Davidson is a spellbinding presence as Guairen the mystic (he'd make an amazing voice-over guy).
Prior to the show, the PlayGround Theatre hands out a study guide which includes a story synopsis, a map that tracks Ling's journey (the equivalent of walking from Miami to Santa Barbara, according to the guide), and even a cut out tangram you can play with. The guide is meant more for kids, but adults will get a kick out of it too.
Look for our full review in next week's issue.
The Red Thread run at the PlayGround Theatre (9806 NE Second Ave, Miami Shores) through May 27. Tickets cost $20. Call 305-751-9550 or visit theplaygroundtheatre.com.