Constellation Theatre’s Gilgamesh is visually and aurally arresting. The lithe and seductive movements of the Woman of Red Sashes. The clickety-clack of the Scorpion Man and Woman’s talons. An impressive, jumping bull with glowing eyes and acrobatic movements, courtesy of the two men it takes to man the costume.
The company, guided by the sure hand of Allison Arkell Stockman, has been developing an interesting little niche for itself, taking on fantastical, often epic tales and bringing them to life with color, music, and movement. Before Gilgamesh came The Green Bird and The Ramayana, both works in a similar vein. A huge factor in the company’s success is the one-man orchestra of Tom Teasley, whose multi-instrument, world-music stylings provide a living score to the stories’ proceedings. Gilgamesh is no exception; here, Teasley’s music heightens tension and keeps the production moving at a satisfying pace, as the title character travels the world and beyond fighting gods and searching for a loyal friend.
At first, the hero of the Mesopotamian epic isn’t the most sympathetic of characters. The half-god king Gilgamesh (Joel David Santner) is busy deflowering virgins and governing harshly when the tale opens—Santner gives him an oblivious arrogance. But when Enkidu (Andreu Honeycutt), a worthy adversary, shows up in his kingdom, the leader is humbled in the best way possible, embracing his rival and pairing up with him to take on the world’s challenges, even if they’re foolhardy quests. Santner ably embodies this transition, transforming the character into a strong and sympathetic leader by the end.
That rival and friend is the heart of Gilgamesh, a part-animal creature whose motives are pure, whose loyalty is unquestionable, and whose fear is nonexistent. Honeycutt lends Enkidu a quiet ferocity and brings an expressive athleticism to the role. Though the cast’s delivery of Yusef Komunyakaa’s poetic script can occasionally veer into melodramatic territory, Honeycutt is one performer who always finds the right balance of power and subtlety in his delivery.
He isn’t alone. Gilgamesh’s small cast take on many roles. The fetching Katy Carkuff* makes a lasting impression in the role of Siduri, a carefree barmaid who almost convinces Gilgamesh to abandon his journey. Also alluring is Emma Crane Jaster in the role of the Woman of Red Sashes, whose successful seduction of Enkidu proves to others he is man rather than animal.
Coming to life against a backdrop of ancient stone accents, Kendra Rai’s costumes are an enduring focal point of the production. Whether it’s the creepy, branch-inspired oversize claws of the forest king Humbaba (Jim Jorgensen) or the fox-like masks of the creatures of the woods, the costumes go a long way toward lending a mystical air to this interpretation of one of history’s oldest stories.
Gilgamesh runs through June 2 at Source. Running time is approximately two hours, including a 15-minute intermission. Tickets ($30 to $45) are available via Constellation Theatre’s website.
*This post has been updated from a previous version.