March 21, 2015
Last night, I had the pleasure of meeting at The Flea Theatre Isabelle Eberhardt (1877-1904), the Swiss born author of “The Nomad: The Diaries of Isabelle Eberhardt” which I read with much fascination as a teenager. Eberhardt’s desire to live free of possessions or attachments, to live as she pleases, has a timeless appeal. Elizabeth Swados, the composer and director of THE NOMAD, makes her central character imminently recognizable, someone about 60 years ahead of her time. Teri Madonna and briefly Sydney Blaxill, play the fearless woman who achieved her goal of living in the Sahara, dressed as a man, until a flash flood killed her at age 27. Charming and curious, she will answer to no man, except as she sees fit.
Swados, best known for her international hit RUNAWAYS, wrote the lyrics with playwright Erin Courtney, with whom she also collaborated on the opera KASPAR HAUSER. Almost dialogue free, the musical opens with a solo “I am Dead” (but not really, as implied) and closes with a group song “I did what I wanted.” Except for one memorable song, “Broke and Broken,” THE NOMAD is infectiously upbeat; the lyrics propel the story forward from her restless childhood in Switzerland, suicidal instincts when her mother dies on their journey together to Africa, her resolve to write, smoke drugs, love, marry, while dodging death threats and riots.
Ani Taj smoothly choreographed the cast of thirteen, 11 of which are The Flea’s resident company, “The Bats.” to suggest everything from a boat at sea to kief smokers to high stepping, leaping dancers. Trevor Bachman leads an invisible 5-man band playing with an Arabic lilt. Lydia Fine designed the puppet horse, which appeared in its full anatomy initially, and then solely as a head. Fine also draped the ceiling over the audience and shaping the stage in a semi-circle, with marvelous white panels of mixed patterns and textures, which allowed the cast to flow in and out of view.
Matthew Bovee stood out as a convincingly blood-thirsty mad man, deeply offended by the evil of Eberhardt. Otherwise, the cast does a serviceable job. NOMAD could stand a bit more exoticism and edge. Perhaps, in the effort to make Eberhardt as familiar as the girl next door, Swadow and Courtney minimize her extraordinary bravery and the unspeakable dangers. That aside, NOMAD is transporting.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Deirdre Towers