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Glenda Frank


Sycorax, Cyber Queen of Qamara


by Fengar Gael, directed by Joan Kane.
Produced by Ego Actus
at HERE, 145 6th Ave., NYC.
Nov. 1- Nov. 18, 2018. Wed.-Sat. at 7:00; Sat.– Sun. at 2. $25.00
For tickets and  information, call Ovation Tix (212-352-3101 or 866-811-4111)
or visit www.HERE.org,  www.egoactus.com/sycorax.html or the box office.

The mind of the playwright can be a most mysterious country. Fengar Gael has taken one line from Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” and woven it into an odd, delicious piece of theatre. “Sycorax: Cyber Queen of Qamara,” stylistically directed by Joan Kane at Here Theatre, combines the ancient Muslim world, black magic and computer science to bring us a story of feminist assertion, complete with a hero and a villain who are the same person.

Hui-Shan Yong, Lauren Capkanis and Taylor Graves. Photo by Al Foote III.

We meet Sycorax at 16 (Lauren Capkanis), delighted with her strange ability to create small living creatures. To cure her high spirits, which her family describes as proud, insolent and disobedient, they banish her books and marry her off to a devout polygamist with daughters older than the bride. The fairy tale element is reinforced by costumes and beards that suggest a children’s theatre or a pageant. The older Sycorax (Sandra Bargman), seated at a computer stage right, seems more a narrator than a player in this tale. But she is not reminiscing about events that occurred 500 years ago; she had downloaded the memories/circles of consciousness and can manipulate them as she chooses. Her choices will lead to a revolution.

Sycorax knows that a degree of freedom can be purchased with the birth of a son. After months of disappointment, she consults her step-daughters, who suggest that she couple with her step-sons. And so she does, deliberately stepping beyond the bounds of morality to get what she wants. Rejecting Allah and swearing allegiance to Setebos, an old god, the pregnant witch is banished to the island which Prospero will rule after her death. There she gives birth to Caliban, a handicapped son, whom she adores, and creates a solipsistic paradise. For companionship, her carved animals spring to life. Into this garden comes temptation in the form of Ariel (Nick Giedris), a perfect man created from a tall pine (projection design by Kathryn Liebe). He brings comedy, couplets and sex appeal. After he seduces Sycorax, he goes after the young Caliban (Michael Pichardo). Still reeling from infatuation, Sycorax imprisons Ariel in the tree.

The script is filled with magic and metaphors. The lovely, young Sycorax is the artist who creates worlds. She is a superwoman, who vanquishes handsome monsters. She is the wife who believes that “men need us but they will never love us.” She is mother love. But the computer monster Sycorax has become delights in freeze-framing the characters, dictating their movements with a remote control. She would poison the universe as revenge for her unhappiness. The young Sycorax proves herself to be more than downloaded memory.

Hui Shan Yong and Lauren Capkanis. Photo by Al Foote III.

Director Kane keeps the increasing tension between the two Sycorax figures tight and focused. While other elements and characters stride the border between cartoon and camp, the two women are the vibrant centers of opposing worlds. Bargman and Capkanis each created a subtext beyond plot or dialogue. They are larger than the script they inhabited. It is a haunting dynamic.

The production could, however, have been stronger had the costumes (by Jeff Sturdivant) reflected the two universes. The young Sycorax lives in high definition color; her creations would have been visually alive, reminiscent of Fauve art more than old newsprint. It is difficult to differentiate the animals Sycorax created for her world since they wore similar masks and costumes.

The eight actors play 19 characters, including the four animals. Fengar Gael has received the Craig Noel Award for Theatrical Excellence and the Manhattan Theatre Works Award. Kane was named to the Indie Theatre Hall of Fame by NYTheatre.com.

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