At On the Boards, French stage auteur Philippe Quesne creates a magical world with some bumbling entertainers and a VW Rabbit.
The first 10 minutes of French writer-director Philippe Quesne’s “La Mélancolie des dragons” may strike fear in some theater audiences.
The setup: Four headbangers sitting in a Volkswagen Rabbit in a snowy landscape keep switching between butt-rock tunes and power ballads, as if caught in some ADD spiral. They continue to sit, change tunes and swig beer, until you wonder if the whole show will take place inside the VW.
Not to worry.
‘La Mélancolie des dragons’
by Philippe Quesne, performed by Vivarium Studio. Through Sunday, Sept. 13, On the Boards, 100 W. Roy St., Seattle; $15-$25 (206-217-9888 or ontheboards.org).
With the arrival of an amiable stranger (Isabelle Angotti), they’re lured out of their car. They’re also soon joined by three companions riding in the trailer behind them.
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Are they a band? Or just riffraff with cheesy musical tastes?
Neither: They’re a self-described “amusement park,” and their tour has been delayed by car trouble. Perhaps, while they’re stuck, Isabelle would like to see their show?
Isabelle, an eager audience of one, says yes.
What follows is a giggle-inducing work of crackpot charm. It’s also a marvel of gradual scenic escalation.
Quesne’s bumbling septet practically trip over each other to entertain Isabelle with their humble diversions. There’s some fumbling video projection. There’s a library containing books on nature, melancholy and dragons. A snow-maker and some cross-country skis also figure in the action.
Even as the seven of them vie for her attention (“Isabelle — bubble machine!”), they couldn’t be more tender or patient with her. Their constant refrain is: “If you want, we can show you.” And she rises to it every time.
Angotti has the sweet clueless air of some innocent who’s strayed onto a TV game show. Her seven amusement-park hosts are just as adorable.
Quesne, who designed the production, uses low-tech zaniness to generate genuine stage magic.
“Look here,” he seems to be saying in his disarming way. “It doesn’t take that much to inspire a sense of wonder.”
The show doesn’t end so much as tiptoe away from its audience. But its last stretch creates a world for Isabelle to wander that makes an eerie, lasting impression.
Note: On the Boards’ website says the show is in French with English subtitles. It’s actually in charmingly accented English, with a few stray Gallicisms thrown in.