Winds whistle through trees. Birds rustle in the breeze. And a sick man limps with some strange disease in "After the Fires," the latest work from Transatlantic Love Affair.
A lyrical one-act, "Fires" premiered Friday at the Illusion Theater in Minneapolis. The show takes us to life after the end of the world as what is perhaps the last band of people, barefoot and in earthy garb, gather in a forest to heal their ills.
They're not armed like "Mad Max" characters or doomsday preppers. These "re-wilding" survivors are gentle as they get in touch with nature and themselves.
Conceived and staged by company artistic director Isabel Nelson, "Fires" is marked by elegiac images and subtle environmental messages. And it's right in line with the kind of elemental, sustainable ethos of a company that specializes in developing pieces over months and years.
The two clearest characters in "Fires" have bird names. Vinecia Coleman plays Wren and Allison Witham plays Robin. Our heroines go on a mythic quest to find the healers who will help them and the rest of the surviving people.
They go to find an Oz-like figure in a place called the Green. This deity requires a song and a display of kindness for healing.
The title of the piece refers to both literal and metaphoric "Fires." There's a funeral pyre suggested for those who have died and returned to ash. But there's also a sense that other things have lost their charge and meaning, things like relationships or life itself.
In that sense, "Fires," whose cast is rounded out by Gracie Anderson, Domino D'Lorion, Derek Lee Miller and Boo Segersin, is about rebirth as people, sick and hurting, try to find a way back to strength.
Transatlantic's throwback style is suggestive of campfire storytelling at a high professional level where the actors' skills are sharpened by lighting design and music.
For "Fires," cellist Emily Dantuma's live performance helps to dramatize the story with poignant and haunting tones. Lighting designer Barry Browning, who took over from the late Michael Wangen, regulates the mood through cool blue and fire-red hues.
A quiet chamber piece, "Fires" requires more imaginative investment than most other theater shows by the company. That's because for all its creativity, the show is a bit precious. It also builds turgidly and sometimes feels poem-like, both opaque and open to different reads.
OK, maybe it's a metaphor for our times, after all — a green version of brimstone end-times that's been intoned by so many preachers and, increasingly, politicians.