By Cynthia Citron
How do you describe perfection? What can you say about a fantasy that keeps you spellbound and holding your breath for 70 minutes? How can I write a 700-word rave about it?
The production is called “Feathers of Fire, A Persian Epic,” and epic it is.
If it were a collection of the folklore of Germany, it might have been written by the Brothers Grimm in the 19th century. But instead it is part of a 60-thousand verse compendium put together by a Persian poet more than 1,000 years ago.
Now an artist named Hamid Rahmanian has conceived, written and adapted, designed and directed one of its traditional love stories for the enjoyment of 21st century theater-goers.
It begins with the love story and marriage of a beautiful young woman
to a powerful minor king in Persia.
But she does not survive the trauma of giving birth to their son, and the distraught king is horrified to see that the baby has been born with a full head of white hair standing out from his scalp like a crown of feathers.
Unwilling to accept this strange child, the father takes him into the wilderness and abandons him there.
But the boy is soon “adopted” by a wondrous magical bird who mothers him until he reaches manhood, at which time he goes off to meet his father and learn the ways of men.
On his journey, however, he sees a beautiful young woman, Rudabeh, and like his father before him, he falls in love instantly. She, of course, responds to him immediately and they begin to plan their wedding.
But, like Romeo and Juliet, they find themselves enmeshed in the long-standing feud between their two families. So he, Zaul, goes off to implore the Great King to give him permission to marry his love.
And on the way he is aided by all manner of fantastic mythical creatures: a fire-belching dragon, a four-legged monster that resembles a rabid dog, etc.
The story is simple and predictable. Its uniqueness lies in its presentation, which involves the efforts of eight hidden actors, 160 shadow puppets, and 15 spectacular masks and costumes.
In addition, there is a background consisting of a 15 by 30-foot screen, and the continuously projected graphics that are gorgeous enough to warrant being shown as a single gallery exhibit all by themselves.
The story and the graphics are there to enhance the activities of the true stars of this sensational production: the shadow puppets.
They are like no other puppets you’ve ever seen.
They are not Pinocchio puppets with long strings attached. Nor are they like Balinese shadow puppets, made of a flat material and moving in a static manner.
These are heavy black silhouettes digitally enhanced so that they are able to move their heads and every other part of their bodies in every direction, down to the little fingers on their hands.
And the actors who manipulate them also provide the voices for the plummy dialogue.
As for the graphics, they present various colorful landscapes, fields of brilliantly blooming flowers, mountains and trees, soft clouds moving slowly across the sky, and fantasy clouds made out of loops and squiggles, like a Paisley print.
The palaces are filled with stately columns and exotic chandeliers. And most spectacular of all are the costumes and headdresses based on authentic Persian designs and bursting with psychedelic colors.
Most amazing, however, was the behavior of the audience. Many people brought children to this production, aged from about four, and they came bustling into the theater in a roar, shouting and squeaking in their seats, as children will.
But the instant the show started, the theater became so quiet that you might have thought it was empty. And through the entire presentation you could have heard a pin drop.
Maybe the kids, too, were holding their breath.
“Feathers of Fire: A Persian Epic” opened Friday, October 20th, for a limited run. It will continue Tuesdays through Fridays at 7:30pm and Saturdays and Sundays at 2pm and 7:30pm through Sunday, October 29th, at the beautiful Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, 9390 North Santa Monica Blvd., in Beverly Hills.