In many of his works, 19th-century novelist H. Rider Haggard pioneered the “lost world” adventure, where vast and ancient civilizations were “discovered” by intrepid bands of European explorers. In “She,” he crafted a doozy of a tale, full of epic adventure and philosophical debate. Though a popular choice for film (there are half a dozen adaptations to date) it’s never been seen on stage.
The Hardcover Theater Company gives it a game try at the Bryant Lake Bowl, creating a show that is certainly fun to watch, but feels like a part of the essence of the original tale may have been lost in translation.
“She” — subtitled “Immortal Witch-Queen of a Lost World” here — follows a trio of Englishman on a journey of discovery. Young Leo has just discovered his birthright — that he is the last descendent of a family once entrapped by Ayesha, a sorceress queen who still rules a hidden empire in Africa. Leo, his guardian, misanthropic Holly, and his manservant Job journey out to discover the truth.
By cutting the novel down to its bare essence, the creaky plot beneath is laid too bare — it’s awfully clear from the beginning the path the story is going to travel (that other authors have been copping from Haggard in the last century and a half doesn’t help matters either).
Still, “She” is an entertaining hour or so of theater. In place of epic stagecraft to bring Ayesha’s realm to life, the company uses story theater — the actors describe their journey and the sites (and sights) that they see, often pantomiming the epic lost world they have discovered. The creative staging — and the talents of the actors — bring the setting to life, letting you forget that it is all being played against a simple black background.
With a solid cast — led by David Tufford as main storyteller Holly and Roneet Aliza Rahamim as the evil, yet alluring Ayesha — great costumes (from Sara Wilcox) and quick-paced action (thanks to director and adaptor Steve Schroer), “She” moves along like an express train throughout. I only wish they’d taken a bit more time to pause and see the sites along the way.
“She: Immortal Witch Queen of a Lost World” runs through Nov. 22 (Thursdays & Saturdays at 7 p.m., Sundays at 3 p.m.) at the Bryant Lake Bowl, 810 W. Lake St., Minneapolis. Tickets are $14-$18 ($12 with a Fringe button). For information and tickets, call the Bryant Lake Bowl at 612-825-8949 or visit online.