THEATER | Open Eye Figure Theatre puts “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” through his paces

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“I’m not going to lie,” I said to my friend after we saw The Sorcerer’s Apprentice at Open Eye Theatre. “I wanted more brooms.”

I knew Michael Sommers’s new adaptation of Goethe’s 1797 poem Der Zauberlehrling was bypassing Disney’s famous cartoon version of the story, starring Mickey Mouse himself in the title role and set (as part of the 1940 film Fantasia) to Paul Dukas’s 1897 symphonic poem, but that’s a lot to bypass. Fantasia arguably represents Disney’s creative peak, and the animated short is a masterpiece of its form. So when the apprentice’s one mop split only into two (as in Goethe’s poem) and not the untold multitudes depicted in the cartoon, I couldn’t help feeling a little disappointed.

My point is that it’s best to brush aside all your expectations and approach this show on its own terms. Puppetmaster Sommers is one of the great creative geniuses working in Minnesota today, and this is his first full-length original work of puppetry since 2007’s A Prelude to Faust. If you care about the performing arts at all, you should definitely see it.

The short, typically intense puppet play showcases many of Sommers’s talents: his unflinching embrace of the macabre, his ingenuity with set design, his clever use of differently-scaled puppets, his subversive humor, and of course his ability to conjure beautifully grotesque (with Sommers, that isn’t a contradiction) puppets. Sit as close as possible, so you can appreciate the detail of this production.

Apprentice‘s visual delights and richness of tone are more than sufficient to strongly recommend the show, but it’s less successful from a narrative standpoint. The story is episodic and choppy, and much of the humor feels awkwardly inserted rather than authentic to the characters. Though Eric Jensen’s score (played live by a four-member ensemble) is moody and effective, the show’s one song is not great.

Despite these shortcomings, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is a cunning and creepy creation. When Sommers opens his cabinet of wonders, you’d be a fool not to peek your head in.