Why the Ambassador Theater decided to call its conjoined productions of Karna and Kunti and Death of Tintagiles “Under the Shadow of Wings” isn’t exactly obvious. But the plays, which both explore the mysteries of death and are both penned by Nobel laureates, make for an interesting and unexpected experience.
Opener Karna and Kunti isRabindranath Tagore’s interpretation of an episode in the Mahabharata, one of two Sanskrit epics in ancient India, along with the Ramayana. If you’re not familiar with aforementioned epic, it’s worth spending time researching the conflict between the Karna (Gavin Whitt) and Kunti (Meera Narasimhan) beforehand. The conflict plays out as more of a discussion than an argument, and the performance hangs on which character can out-emote the other. It’s a bit confusing without prior knowledge, but the beautiful lighting effects, courtesy Marianne Meadows, really aid the storytelling.
The second play is the more engaging of the two, perhaps because director David Willinger has more experience with Belgian works. Playwright Maurice Maeterlinck originally wrote Death of Tintagiles for marionettes, so enthralled was he with symbolism that he didn’t think mere humanswere capable of performing with the proper detachment. So casting the play with real live actors is kind of like the theater equivalent of a 3-D movie: engrossing, trippy, but occasionally a bit gimmicky.
Like Karna and Kunti, it’s sometimes hard to deduce what exactly is going on. Death of Tintagiles centers around young Tintagiles (Misha Ryjik), who, after an absence, after returns to the protective arms of his two sisters Ygraine (Hanna Bondarewska) and Bellangere (Paula Rich). Together, they attempt to thwart an unseen all-powerful and mysterious Queen, the embodiment of death, who wants to steal Tintagiles back to her lair. Bondarewska’s frantic Ygraine really leads the audience through the action and macabre struggle between life and death. If it sounds too dark, there are sparks of humor, intentional and otherwise. From a visual standpoint, one scene resembled a 19th-century Run Lola Run so closely I laughed.
Ultimately, “Under the Shadow of Wings” and the pairing of Indian and Belgian doesn’t quite make for a synchronous marriage, but it’s certainly worthy of your time.