'The Raveling' at Walkabout Theater is a sensory packed, haunted family circus
There are many familiarities associated with having a cup of tea. It can make a palatable catalyst for carefree conversation, a natural remedy for an oncoming cold or a refuge that puts nerves at ease. No matter the occasion, casual or special, alone or with others, there's an undeniable sense of comfort when you put on a kettle for a spot or two.
This ritual of relaxation is the first introduction into Walkabout Theater Company's The Raveling, running at Victory Gardens Theater. A cheery, bustling ensemble welcome you into what feels less like a rehearsal room and more akin to an abandoned attic or rummage sale. Everything opens senses of curiosity with an inclination to stay awhile to discover the stories that lie within. Chairs of various hues and sizes are snugly covered with expansive fringed blankets and you're offered a cup of tea with jam as an invitation and expression of gratitude.
From its first sip of renewal to its last poignant drop, The Raveling is an inquisitively brewed seventy minutes steeped deep in the traditions of home, grief and forgiveness. Directed by Thom Pasculli and co-created by the Walkabout Ensemble, this devised world premiere thrives from its collaboration with Fides Krucker and Delhi’s Guild of the Goat with original text by Morgan McNaught. This exploration unwinds what it means to have a family, roots and purpose (which don't always feel connected) through gripping forces of ensnaring music, unflinching nostalgia and fanciful footwork.
For a piece that is bookmarked from raising glasses solemnly in celebration, you'll want to raise your own in solidarity. The play cascades in a flurry of memories, strung together and displayed like clothes pins on a line of old twine. Personal histories are shaped by their narrator with an undercurrent of the struggle to deal with the past in the present. A table is appropriately used as the focal image to transform time, space and setting. It immediately awakens the sense of family, gathering loved ones for a meal, conversation, and to sustain community.
Instead of large, extravagant set pieces that would distract from its themes, the ensemble's vibrantly charged intentions with assistance from the audience's imagination helps turn the table into a vehicle for movement. It's a boat, a casket, and through an impressive presentation even births a child from its wooden underbelly. This timeless work space transports us internationally from Ireland to Indiana, a circus to a birthday party, a ghostly visit to gazing upon a growing pile of carcasses. A variety of locations makes for a whirlwind performance, leaving you both bewildered and breathless.
Never dropping in energy or specificity, live musical accompaniment helps transition from moment to moment. One in particular features an uplifting female trio singing various intersecting melodies acapella with a pulsating refrain of "Part of Your World". Across respective backgrounds, there's a common longing for more with a different emphasis on what that more entails for each. Some want to be princes and kings. Others simply want to be alive or found.
While often weaved like a fairy tale (dark in nature with inherent lessons), statements in brief passing take us out of this dreaminess. Fires in the Amazon, family separations, and lost stories with departed loved ones offer a stark contrast that's inseparable when thinking of the search for home. It successfully highlights the pain entailed from holding on tightly to our coveted narratives with advice to "Look further ahead,” (like our ancestors) and, "Maybe the past isn't as romantic as it seems. Maybe everyone isn't where they're supposed to be."
Walkabout Theater's The Raveling is a reminder to honor the past, but not let it weigh down our present. It's a lifelong lesson that requires endurance, growth and supporting ourselves as much as others. Never have I been so entranced by the floating in and out of metaphors about home than American Theater Company's Picnic. Here it's more tightly executed with the deliverance of sage, practical wisdom: "If you knew everything, life would be unlivable."