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Haroun and the Sea of Stories

There's more to you Haroun Khalifa than meets the blinking eye. -- Rashid Khalifa

Carlos Bustamante
C. Bustamante
(Photo: Bruce Robey)
One of the most charming fables to come along in years! Theater Alliance's Haroun and the Sea of Stories is a happy fairy tale that can be scripted for both children and adults and enjoyed at different levels by all age groups. Written in 1990 by Salmon Rushdie (his first post-Satanic Verses novel), the story has been made into a play and, most recently, an opera. Full of poetic language, the work is a social commentary on Indian society, politics and censorship. If that sounds too heavy for you, not to worry; American audiences can simply enjoy the story for its comic humor, colorful characters and fluid storytelling.

Theater Alliance, over at the H Street Playhouse in northeast Washington, has brought this refreshing story to life with a mix of innocence and edgy sarcasm. The entire production is colorful, fun and mesmerizing in its playful delivery.

Combining movement and sign language with sound and lighting effects, director and choreographer Kelly Parsley melds the mythical and metaphysical aspects of the story with its sing-song poetics. Set designer Matt Soule utilizes children's blocks to build the various locations of the play, while Mark Anduss' sound design takes you on a journey all within its own. Kate Turner-Walker looks like she has had fun with the costumes, using uniforms, huge fish heads and stylized dress for everyone. And Kathy Couch's lighting creates the worlds of light (The Land of Gup) and shadow (The Land of Chup) that make up this metaphysical story.

"Set in a city so ruinously sad that it has forgotten its name...," Haroun takes us on a young boy's journey to find the Sea of Stories so he can help his father, Rashid Khalifa, the famed storyteller known as the Shah of Blah, regain his ability to devise intricate stories to delight the masses. His father lost the gift of weaving intricate webs of dialogue when Haroun's mother ran off with their unimaginative neighbor, Mr. Sengupta. As Rashid and Haroun travel to provide stories at political rallies (an attempt by corrupt politicians to distract the voters), Rashid is unable to fulfill his contractual obligations. Faced with a "tell a good story or else." situation, Haroun awakens one night to discover a water genie turning off the flow from the Ocean of Notions to his father's brain, thus causing the storyteller to be unable to delight his audiences with wonderful fables.

After stealing the P2C2E (Process Too Complicated To Explain) device, Haroun gets a mechanical hoopoe bird to fly him to the Land of Gup to meet with The Walrus and explain his father's case. Along the way, the boy and his dad get caught up in the war between the Lands of Gup and Chup as they attempt to save the ugly and untalented Princess Batcheat and unplug The Sea of Stories which has been polluted by the evil Khattam-Shud (The End) in an attempt to stop all stories from ever occurring again.

All in all, it's a wonderfully lyrical ride with a terrific cast! Anu Yadav as Haroun creates the childlike enthusiasm of the young boy, while Ian LeValley as storyteller Rashid is a tower of good humored strength and calmness until misfortune strikes and he must rediscover his own inner joy. Carlos Bustamante is frenetic as Mr. Butt the rhyming, risk taking bus driver and then creates the birdlike movements of the mechanical hoopoe, in which he performs a delightful pseudo-break dance.

Danny Ladmirault is the snidely Mr. Sengupta and the gleefully evil Khattam-Shud, while Scott McCormick does a graceful ballet as Mudra the shadow. Deb Gottesman creates a funny Einstein-like General Kitab who must oversee Alex Perez' whiny Prince Bolo. And rounding out the cast are Erica Chamblee, Jonathon Church, Mikal Evans, Maggie Glauber and Adele Robey.

Definitely worth a trip over to the H Street Playhouse. And if you miss it there, you can see it at Round House Theatre's Silver Spring stage from April 6th to April 9th. This is a good show for older children and for adults who are young at heart!

Haroun and the Sea of Stories
by Salman Rushdie, Adapted by Tim Supple and David Tushingham
Directed and choreographed by Kelly Parsley
with Carlos Bustamante, Erica Chamblee, Jonathon Church, Mikal Evans, Maggie Glauber, Deb Gottesman, Danny Ladmirault, Ian LeValley, Scott McCormick, Alex Perez, Adele Robey, Anu Yadav
Set Design: Matt Soule
Lighting Design: Kathy Couch
Costume Design: Kate Turner-Walker
Sound Design: Mark K. Anduss
Running Time: 2 hours 20 minutes with one intermission
A production of Theater Alliance
H Street Playhouse, 1365 H Street NE
Telephone: 1-800-494-8497
THU - SAT @8; SAT - SUN @2; $25
Opening 03/02/06, closing 04/9/06
Reviewed by Rich See based on 03/04/06 performance
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© 2006  Elyse Sommer.