By Michele Markarian
Journey to the West – Adapted by Mary Zimmerman, from the translation by Anthony C. Yu of Hsi Yu Chi. Directed by Lee Mikesha Gardner. David Fichter, Scenic Designer & Painter; Leslie Held, Costume Designer; John R. Malinowski, Lighting Designer; Judith Chaffee Choreographer.Presented by The Nora Theatre Company and Underground Railway Theater, 450 Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge through December 31.
Looking to take your mind out of the post-Trump slump? Look no further than Central Square, where Nora Theatre Company and Underground Railway Theater present the sumptuous Journey to the West. For at least two and a half hours, you will be blessedly relieved of bad cabinet choices, orange hair and the Supreme Court – okay, I’ll stop there. As a piece of blissful, flowing, often funny theatre, Journey to the West delivers pure pleasure, beautifully directed by Lee Mikeska Gardner.
Based on one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese Literature, Journey to the West tells the story of a Buddhist monk, Tripitaka (Jesse Garlick) and his three unruly disciples, the Monkey King (Lynn R. Guerra), Pig (Shanae Burch) and Sha Monk (Harsh J. Gagoomal), who must travel to the West in search of three Buddhist scrolls with scriptures. They have been warned that the journey will be arduous and long, and fraught with no more and no less than 81 perils. Along the way, they meet many characters, some dangerous, some pathetic, some comical, all of them interesting.
And beautifully adorned! Leslie Held’s costumes are remarkable, from the Dragon King’s stunning tail to the Death Girls’s (I can think of no other names for these two characters, but I loved them) Goth-chic ensembles. There is also a scene with a monster that I won’t give away, but the costume is startling and scary. David Fichter’s set is a work of art; two colorful courts on either side of the long stage, with a bare white floor, calling to mind rice paper or a scroll, in between. Long flowing cloths augment the piece.
Lynn R. Guerra perfectly embodies the role of Monkey King, vocally and physically. The role is a physically demanding one, requiring agility, strength, and balance, which she accomplishes with seeming ease. Jesse Garlick plays Tripitaka, the monk, with a nice balance of courage and fear. Shanae Burch is very funny as Pig, and Sophorl Ngin brings elegance and grace as Buddha. The supporting cast is excellent, playing a variety of roles so well that it’s actually surprising to read the program and see just how small the cast really is. Ryan Meyer’s compositions complement the script both with harmony and tension.
At a little over two and a half hours long, Journey to the West might not be appropriate for younger children, although there seemed to be enough interesting and action-oriented things onstage to keep the two kids (ages maybe 7? 8?) that were attending the night I saw it entertained. Despite the Buddhist nature of the tale, one might be perceived as high-minded, there are some very funny moments. And while I was able to put the current state of America easily on the back burner, it was refreshing to see that despite 81 harrowing dangers and a 16-year long journey, our heroes manage to complete their task and gain enlightenment. Isn’t that the best that any of us can hope for? For more info, go to: https://www.centralsquaretheater.org/shows/journey-to-the-west/