Iron Ring, a Children’s Theatre Company Production

Ansa Akyea as King Jaya in the CTC's production of Iron Ring - Photo by Dan Norman

Iron Ring (on the Children’s Theatre Company mainstage, 2400 Third Ave, through April 10, childrenstheatre.org) adapted by Charles Way from a novel by the gifted Lloyd Alexander is a journey story in the grandly mythic Joseph Campbell tradition. Way (one of the best and best known writers of theater for young audiences) and director Peter Brosius display an admirable instinct for the cinematic. The action, set in a nameless but very India-like fantasy land, flows naturally from a village, to a castle, into the Jungle, to a waterfall, to a battlefield, etc, with perfectly rendered sound/music (by the always excellent Victor Zupanc) and with (of course – this is CTC) gorgeous design. Vicki Smith, Rebecca Fuller Jensen and Mary Anna Culligan are the design team.

And dance. The play utilizes the immense skills of Ragamala Dance (choreographed beautifully by Ranee Ramaswany) who dance in the traditional Bharatanatyam style. Every moment they are onstage is magical. (It’s worth noting, to veer briefly off-topic, that Ragamala performs at the Southern, May 20-23)

In a nutshell: young King Tamar is visited late at night by the mysterious King Jaya. They play a dangerous dice game, aksha. Tamar bets his life, literally – and loses. Jaya jams an iron ring onto his finger and summons Tamar to his distant kingdom. No one has heard of Jaya; nevertheless, Tamar feels compelled to leave his comfortable kingdom and become a denizen of the jungle. He acquires friends: Rajaswami, his elderly Teacher, Hashkat the Monkey, Garuda the Eagle. He mediates a battle between cobras, visits a village in time for the “Choosing” (when the women perform for the young men they will marry), becomes embroiled in the struggle between King Ashwara and the evil usurper Nahusha.

Sumptuous material, but it doesn’t all quite land. In particular, Tamar’s obsession with caste late in Act 2 feels sudden, off-putting and out of character; after all, early in the play he effortlessly sheds his king trappings to become a lowly jungle explorer. This confusion, combined with the overly complicated destruction of Narusha, causes the ending to feel flabby and the play a tad overlong.

Is there a more enjoyable trio of actors than Reed Sigmund, Dean Holt and Autumn Ness? The CTC triumvirate, these seasoned performers take and hold the stage with over-the-top zest, wild imagination and genuine power. The rest of the ensemble excels. Gerald Drake as the goofy but game Rajaswami, Zack Shornick as the tragically noble Ashwara and Ansa Akyea, outstanding in his multiple roles, all amaze.

There is a lot to like in this show: first rate acting, thrilling design and a story that, though it occasionally goes off-track, is still very affecting. Oh, and the dancers are truly marvelous.

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