The recipe isn’t quite right in Kira Obolensky’s “The Changelings.” The ingredients are there for a tasty piece of theater in Ten Thousand Things’ world premiere production, but the proportions are off.
As in past efforts for the company, Obolensky crafts a fantastical fable to explore issues of family, loss and hope. On the outskirts of Threadsville, a family is haunted by a long-ago loss. More than two decades earlier, son Otto ran off one day and was never seen again.
“Mother Goat” has worn the same Sunday-best outfit for 23 years, waiting for her son to return. “Father Freshface” retreats every day to his failing betting parlor, where his string of luck has long run out. “Sister,” who was watching Otto when he disappeared, toils at the town’s rope factory, wasting her bright mind as one of the spiders who weave day after day.
Then on a late summer day, a young man arrives and declares that he is the long-lost Otto. He has a wild tale of being captured by goblins in a nearby cornfield and raised in a different world.
As quickly as you can say “The Return of Martin Guerre,” Otto works his way back into his family, but there are still doubts. Otto is as vague about his life before as he is about his 23 years away. Freshface’s assistant Sharp — who also has a crush on Sister — thinks he knows Otto’s game, and Sharp will go to any lengths to protect the family.
It’s not the basic story that lets us down, but its execution. Even with a dream cast that includes Shá Cage, Luverne Seifert and Ricardo Vazquez, there just isn’t enough below the surface to make us fully care.
The fantastical elements also work against the play. Personifications of the broken-down House and the Wind that constantly blows help to set the stage, but their repeated appearances only slow the action to a crawl.
“The Changelings” has its moments, from Annie Enneking’s music to Irve Dell’s spare sets. It’s just that Ten Thousand Things’ recipe works so well that a miss like this leaves a bad taste in the mouth.
Ed Huyck is a Minneapolis writer.