Cutting Ball Theater’s mesmerizing ‘Pelleas & Melisande’

We’ve come to expect rare revivals of 20th-century plays, original translations from the French and new, experimental works from Cutting Ball Theater, and the small company’s latest effort does not disappoint.

Artistic director Rob Melrose has translated and directed Belgian playwright Maurice Maeterlinck’s seldom produced, 1893 symbolist fairy tale “Pelleas & Melisande.” (The script has been published, along with two other of Melrose’s play translations, by the local Exit Press.)

Symbolism, an avant-garde movement of the turn of the century, adopted a mystical and spiritual approach to the arts; Symbolist theater meant non-realism.

Maeterlinck’s plays (of which “The Bluebird” is his most famous) are laden with portents that hint at a shadowy reality — a sense of fate or inevitability — on the periphery of our human perception.

Melrose and colleagues have captured all that, and more, in this mesmerizing production.

A prince (played with affable charm by Derek Fischer) finds a mysterious, weepy girl (the elfin Caitlyn Louchard) in the forest, is entranced by her youth and beauty, marries her and brings her back to the seaside castle, where she’s welcomed by his wise grandfather, the king, and the sympathetic queen (Paul Gerrior and Gwyneth Richards, two local theatrical treasures).

But fragile Melisande falls in love with her husband’s brother, Pelleas (Joshua Schell, youthfully vibrant in the role).

As the slow-moving, hypnotic drama continues, everything portends a tragic end to their forbidden, and hidden, romance: the watery motifs, a lost wedding ring, the dark forest, a damp and echoey cave, every startling sound and light effect.

All elements are smoothly integrated.

There’s Melrose’s script: clear and slightly formal-sounding, a perfect fit for the ethereal ambiance with its modern touches (which include attractive, nonperiod-specific costumes by Raquel Barreto). Melrose has even found a few gently comic moments.

There’s Laura Arrington’s choreography — not dance, but a sublimely graceful movement style that all the actors embody effortlessly.

There’s the uniformly fine cast itself, which includes a sort of choral trio (Carla Pauli, Brittany Kilcoyne McGregor and Jessica Jade Rudholm — the latter also effectively portrays a squirmy little boy).

There’s Cliff Caruthers’ otherworldly, New Agey score (which only occasionally veers into the overly soporific), and Wesley Cabral’s watery, abstract video projections that blend with York Kennedy’s lighting design.

And there’s Michael Locher’s clever set: a long wooden pier that bisects the small theater, upon which all the action, purposefully nonliteral, takes place.

Performed without an intermission, the play casts a dreamy, magical spell.


Pelleas & Melisande

Presented by Cutting Ball Theater

Where: Exit on Taylor, 277 Taylor St., San Francisco

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 5 p.m. Sundays; closes Nov. 27

Tickets: $10 to $50

Contact: (800) 838-3006,

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