Entertainment » Theatre

SAGA

by Terence Diamond
Wednesday Mar 20, 2013
Puppet Gunnar Oddmunson (center) and fellow protesters
Puppet Gunnar Oddmunson (center) and fellow protesters  (Source:Jim Baldassare)

"Egil's Saga" is a 13th century chronicle of the life of Egil Skallagrimsson, a precocious Viking farmer, marauder and poet who roved the seas around Britain, Iceland and Scandinavia. Egil was a badass agriculturalist. A natural at pillaging from early childhood, Egil slayed his first victim at the age of seven. A big, strong, ruthless brute, he displayed a disarming talent aside from the art of professional mayhem. He was a spontaneous composer of short verses that would memorialize the victory of plunder, appease a tyrannous monarch, or romance a comely maiden.

The saga is a popular literary form from Nordic culture that recorded the history of the Vikings. "SAGA," a modern Icelandic Epic, is a new production by Wakka-Wakka that utilizes this literary form and updates it to tell a modern tale of rapine and pillage.

"Egil's Saga" catalogs 10th century Egil's numerous journeys and his struggle to defend his land rights against infringement by others, including a few Norwegian kings. Wakka-Wakka's SAGA recounts the 2008 global economic collapse in Iceland. It relates the story of one Gunnar Oddmanson as he buys a new home and starts a small agritourism business in the devil's brew of cheap money and competitive consumption that marked the mid-2000s. Family man Gunnar is portrayed as a tad acquisitive but mainly hapless fish farmer who bets large and looses big.

Inspired puppetry conjures the extraordinary out of the ordinary -- felt, Styrofoam and masked actors. In "SAGA," these elements, along with virtuosic set designs, produce a fully realized vision of a now all too familiar tragedy with magic-realistic and comic touches. Case in point is the bill-paying scene. Before things go very wrong, an overwhelmed Gunnar reconciles his accounts by tossing the bills aside or even burning them. The envelopes take flight and plead "Pay me!" while darting like bats around his head.

Gunnar bears partial responsibility for heedlessly borrowing more than he could afford. Yet, Wakka Wakka pulls no punches when it blames the banks for the grand swindle of a generation. "SAGA" suggests that this outright theft arouses the spirit of Iceland calling for "Blood!" in the figure of a Viking. William B. Yeats' verses echo in this suggestion, "Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world...loosing the blood-dimmed tide...and what rough beast, its hour come as last, slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?"

"SAGA" both dramatizes and predicts the economic collapse's potential for destruction on a global scale. It further suggests the idea that the average capitalist, Eric of Don Delillo's "Cosmopolis" for instance, is an adolescent punk in historical context. Eric is the image of master pillager of the Japanese yen market. But our 21st century version of rapacity is a feeble dribble compared to the firehose torrent of the Vikings.

Iceland sets a new world record in national bankruptcy. When his family abandons him and the bank takes his house and car, Gunnar's ancient Norse desire for blood revenge awakens. The battle begins.

"SAGA" muses that our century's insatiable capitalist barons will reap the whirlwind. The unchecked greed of the financial markets has created it and dialectically, that force, the spirit of Egil, is already unleashed upon the world.

Some political philosophies hold that an individual's home and family are the building blocks of a peaceful and civilized society. Destroy that way of life and you rend the fabric of civilization, triggering the most atavistic impulses. "SAGA" recounts a tragedy of one average guy that stands in for everyone who aspired to the American dream home-ownership (an increasingly global aspiration it seems) using the legitimate tools of capitalism, borrowing and lending. Instead of building equity and enjoying a roof over our heads, we got a rigged system that pillaged our communities and tossed our families into the street. Gunnar's tragedy is ours as well.

Wakka Wakka is an ensemble company of artists noted for its original theatrical creations on diverse subjects such as sci-fi dystopias and the life of Henrik Ibsen. It first debuted in the theatrical scene in 2001 with the Edinburgh Fringe show "B9: Clinch Mountain Lookout." Backstage called their production "Baby Universe" "a must-see feat of theatricality."

The company's work has garnered numerous Drama Desk Awards nominations and an Obie Grant in 2011. Their stagings are highly physical, overlapping in a wide range of styles, including grotesque, absurd and clown, incorporating elements such as object manipulation, puppetry, masks and original music.

Wakka-Wakka's "SAGA" features 30 puppets, ranging from three inches to 10 feet, portrayed by an international cast of puppeteers from Iceland, Norway, Ireland and the USA.

The cast includes puppeteers Kirjan Waage (Norway), Andrea Ösp Karlsdóttir (Iceland), Andrew Manjuck (USA), Fergus J. Walsh (Ireland) and Conan Magee (USA).

The creative team includes Kirjan Waage and Gwendolyn Warnock (Set Design), Jan Erik Skarby (Lighting Design), Gwendolyn Warnock (Costume Design) and Wakka Wakka (Sound Design). The executive producers are Gabrielle Brechner (USA) and Kirjan Waage (Norway).

"SAGA" runs through April 14 at the Baruch Performing Arts Center, 55 Lexington Avenue in New York City. For info or tickets, call 866-811-4111 or visit http://www.WakkaWakka.org.

Terence Diamond's first job out of high school was a union meat slicer for a Danish ham factory in suburban New Jersey. Despite two adventures in academia, Terence grew up to be a playwright, journalist, and short story writer. Terence is a prolific author of almost exclusively queer themed full-length and short play. Terence's work is listed in 'Gay and Lesbian American Plays: An Annotated Bibliography.' Terence is formerly an assistant professor of English at Long Island University and a member of the Dramatists Guild. Currently Terence teaches grant writing to artists at 3rd Ward Education in Brooklyn, contributes to PrettyQueer.com and Curve Magazine. He also writes grants for and advises small theatre companies, including a queer theatre startup.


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