Theatre is collaboration. Tell It to the Wind, written and directed by Benji Inniger on the stage of Bethany Lutheran College, not only exemplifies that collaboration, but is intimately concerned with it.
The play itself is structured around the folk and fairy tales of the world, from Russia to Africa to the Americas. What unites these individual stories is their timelessness in the souls of mankind. Even though Disney fans will recognize only the basic elements of “The Scarlet Flower” from Disney’s animated Beauty and the Beast, the conflicts and concerns of the characters are intimately familiar to every audience member. The same is true of “Khuu and Tsai,” “Snowmaiden,” and all the tales that interweave into the fabric of Tell It to the Wind. This is because we are human, because they are our stories, and because we will tell these stories to others so that they are perpetuated (in some form or another) ad infinitum.
The play is bookended by a literal book: in the opening scene, before the stories begin, we have the story of a girl who finds a book and begins reading, surrounded by a community of indistinct others. In the final scene, after the last story ends, the girl places the book back into center stage where she found it, leaving it for the next person to discover. The cast members themselves sometimes serve as the narrators of the storybook, telling the story even as they act it out.
Things of note: The play cycles through the seasons. The costume design of Emily Kimball brilliantly depicts this change from winter to spring to summer to autumn and finally back to winter. The lighting design of Jake Yenish and scenery effects like fog and mountains of cotton stuff or flowing blue fabric also feed these transitions.
The entirely original musical score by Beret Ouren pulls inspiration from all the cultures of these stories, as well as her own musical expression. She tells her story through music, even as the actors tell theirs through the staging, and the lights tell theirs, the sets tell theirs, the costumes tell theirs; and all these stories are the same stories.
In this grand story, it is unified through an internal collaboration of many stories: some thrilling and joyful, as in the antics of the charismatic Hans Bloedel and versatile Amir Trotter in the riotous “J’ba Fofi”; some sad and full of longing, as in the star-crossed young love of “Snowmaiden” depicted by David Roemhildt and Gwendalyn Ward. The cast plays dancelike upon the multilayered stage, keeping time with Ouren’s music and Yenish’s lights, even in “Khuu and Tsai” literally telling the story through dance.
In fact, multiple forms of storytelling were incorporated into the play: narration, dance, near-minimalist suggestions, and even puppets. Numerous puppets were designed by Kirsten Elyea, Alicia Kranz, Megan Sauer, and Morgan Sauer, and while the Sesame-Street-accustomed audience may at times chuckle, the beauty of these elements, especially when combined with expert operation as by Anna Meyer (who played delightfully with the friendly snake Nyoka upon the stage) and powerful lighting effects like the deep aquamarine sea backdrop for the silhouette of Taro and the turtle Hime swimming to the Island Where Summer Never Dies, must be recognized. Much is also suggested in this production, allowing the audience to fill in the blank spaces with our own imagination, appropriating the stories as our own. We, too, are invited to collaborate in and to share these stories.
Tell It to the Wind, a phrase which comes first in “The Scarlet Flower,” referring to the deepest things one’s heart simply must tell, whether or not anyone is there to hear, is a beautiful play. It moves us to laughter, to tears, to excitement, to singing along, to fear, to nostalgia, to love. And this is unsurprising, because the play is about the stories we tell and the way we tell those stories and how they affect our hearts and souls. What is this but our very humanity?