The 2013 Portland Christmas Revels ‘Eastern Europe” script is the 8th Revels show I’ve had a hand in writing. I’m especially proud that Portland scripts Dick Lewis and I crafted have gone on to be adapted by the Revels in Cambridge, Oakland, and Washington D.C. among other Revels cities.
I believe a Revels script balances precariously between theatrical irrelevance and pompous sermon. These shows are about music and dancing and have been since the Revels inception in Cambridge, Massachusetts more than 40 years ago. The script is just a vehicle that gives the songs a ride for a couple of hours on a cold December night. It can’t be trivial, it’s a ride that must plunge us into the darkness of Winter and renew our hope in the coming Spring. Yet too heavy a hand on the keyboard and I’m preaching cliches about tradition and community and romanticizing ye goode olde days. The script has to be a simple story that takes us where we need to go and does so with very little dialog but a lot of heart and no sermons.
Each year I look for another aspect of the returning light to let me write. Sometimes a folk fable will show me the way into a story, something as simple as the gnome characters of the Northlands script disgruntled with a lack of butter on their solstice porridge. Sometimes its the setting that haunts me as in the Ghosts of Haddon Hall. Often my penchant for magical realism gives me a storyline as it did in last years Appalachian Revels when a song stealer crept into a mountain community and tried to make off with the people’s songs. Or in the Spanish show where we rifled through the hidden treasure room until by waking each relic that held a song, dance or story we realized the culture itself was the treasure of Andalusian Spain.
Wandering through sources of music and architecture and stories of the Slavic peoples of Eastern Europe this year I came across the picture of a medieval clock that first graced the town of Prague in the 1400s. Struggling with the construct of the show I came back to this clock again and again. It reminded me of one of my favorite childhood books “The Wonder Clock” with stories and illustrations by Howard Pyle. In that book each hour of the day presented a new story and with that memory I realized I had solved the dilemma of exploring a culture as diverse as that of the Slavs. It isn’t one story – it’s many stories. The clock can unify them and the onrush of time moves us through our journey.
From the clock also comes the crisis of the show. Its workings allow for the humor and darkness and timing of the play. It makes for a magic premise that will bring both the darkness and the hope for the future. But if I say anymore you’ll curse me for spoiling what happens when you see the show. Just wind it up and see where we go this year.