Spoleto 2019 » Theater

'Roots' takes you back, and forward, and all around, animating storytelling with old-timey innovation

Screen time redux

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For a culture of screen addicts, the company 1927 is like a medicinal balm, a meth clinic, if you will, that delivers hits of the same alluring substance but titrated in liberating, healing, electrifying doses.

As the company’s name suggests, their work is a throwback to a Chaplin-esque time, when moving images were emerging and special effects were simple, but no less special. By embracing the elemental magic of film and infusing hand-drawn animation with live action, live music, and peek-a-boo characters, an intoxicating alchemy ensues. And thank our lucky Pappy Van Winkle, this alluring tonic is about as far from reality TV and Southern Charm as you can get.
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The company has charmed Spoleto audiences before, presenting Golem in 2016 and Devil and the Deep Blue Sea in 2008. This year’s offering is their world premiere of Roots, a series of mostly grim and largely forgotten folk tales.

There’s a manically gluttonous fat cat, a depressingly unlucky guy, and some highly questionable parenting in the colorful recounting of “Two Fish,” among other stories. Each is accompanied by eerily entrancing scores, with instruments dug out of antiquity just as the tales are. When was the last time you heard someone play Peruvian prayer boxes, donkey jaws, and musical saws?

Roots enchants on all levels — visually, musically, imaginatively. Its artistic barebones is part of its power, proof that Hollywood technical wizardry is more frosting than cake, and in the end, the fat cat will eat the cake regardless.



At times I wished the stories were as gripping as their artistic presentation was. The narration is deadpan, and in the middle of a hot afternoon it was easy to get dozy with the soporific music in the darkened Emmett Robinson Theatre. Maybe grab a coffee before you go, but do go, as Roots will ground you in amazement and delight.

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