The Matchbox Magic Flute, Shakespeare Theatre Company

Mary Zimmerman loves to work with a magic box on stage. I've seen it in the glowing wooden box frame of her Argonautika at Shakespeare Theatre Company back in 2008, and it's easy to say that she made her name turning a box down to the ground with the pool of Metamorphoses. Her Candide at STC was set within a wooden box that filled the stage of the Harman. It's a delight, then, to see her tackle another box, with the richly hued proscenium designed by Todd Rosenthal that frames her sparkling gem of The Matchbox Magic Flute.

Tina Muñoz Pandya, Lauren Molina, Monica West, Russell Mernagh, and Billy Rude in "The Matchbox Magic Flute." Photo by Liz Lauren.

Zimmerman excels at staging big ideas with exacting clarity, distilling complexity and mammoth endeavors into a simple human action. Mozart's opera, Die Zauberflöte, takes a world of magic and fairy tale-like characters and spins them into a story that blends royal lovers and their highly-charged symbolic stakes alongside comic characters that may or may not be literal birdfolk who are here for a good time. It's not surprising that when their powers combine, The Matchbox Magic Flute becomes a quick-moving, endlessly fluid delight. In Zimmerman's adaption, we lose the overture (my one regret for the evening) but gain a sense of childlike play, as scenes never outstay their welcome and musical moments are beautifully rendered and then concluded.

Tina Muñoz Pandya, Shaun Pfautsch, Reese Parish, Emily Rohm, Monica West and Lauren Molina in "The Matchbox Magic Flute." Photo by Liz Lauren.

Zimmerman's ten-person cast is wonderfully used, doubling and tripling roles in a way that always feels theatrical and not winking at the audience with self-indulgent cleverness. It's an absolute treat to have Lauren Molina back at STC with Zimmerman, performing as Papagena among other roles, and bringing her impeccable comic skills as well as her musical prowess back to DC. As a whole, the actors are tremendously skilled at singing, although the purists should know although clearly well-trained, they don't always have the squillo in their voices of artists who make opera their primary vocation. It's also worth noting that there are lovely moments in the second half of the evening where members of the small orchestra have their own moments to shine on stage. 

It won't shock anyone when I say that it's rough out there right now, folks. The world is a hard place to be, and it's hard to look away. Even and especially so, what a delight to end the season with a show this endlessly charming.


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