Comic Sanskrit: Constellation has concocted a Ramayana that really moves.

Sign up for our free newsletter

When I told a friend I was going to see a stage version of the Ramayana, he asked what it was about, and after a pause, the best I could come up with was, “It’s one of the great world-myths, about why things are the way they are, and how we can live well. And at some point, there’s a flying monkey.” What’s marvelous is that both of these things are entirely true: The vast and ancient Sanskrit tale—tens of thousands of verses long in its full form, but mercifully streamlined in Peter Oswald’s relatively sleek adaptation—is a sort of adventure-among-the-smart-set narrative, simple at first glance (a paragon of a king sets out to rescue his virtuous wife from the demon lord who has abducted her) and richly metaphorical under the surface. Life-lessons abound there, most of them deeply informed by the core tenets of Hinduism, and there can be a certain air of the devotional about the proceedings, even in Allison Arkell Stockman’s colorful, athletic staging. (Did I mention that that the king, in keeping with tradition, is cobalt blue? And that the boss demon has 10 heads?) But there is, happily, that flying monkey—the dutiful Hanuman (a delightful Joe Brack), who midway through the tale discovers a heretofore-unsuspected patrimony that will help him play the hero when everyone else is at a loss about how to cross 200 miles of ocean. Brack isn’t the only worthy among the Constellation Theatre forces, either; Heather Haney makes a suitably divine Sita, and Amy Quiggins is woefully charming as the wife of a monkey king (among other characters). Best of all, Stockman’s design team has created a vivid sense of spectacle on what’s presumably a shoestring—the masks, by Anna St. Germain, and costumes, by Kendra Rai, deserve special mention—and percussionist-composer Tom Teasley conjures a veritable universe of near-supernatural noises, all on his own. Constellation’s ambitions have always tended toward the epic, but its grasp hasn’t always matched its reach; I remember a 2008 production of one particular Greek-play cycle for all the wrong reasons. So I’m delighted to say that this Ramayana suggests that the outfit, which took home the 2009 Helen Hayes Award for outstanding emerging theater company, seems to be growing into its appetites nicely.