Keep calm and journey on

Journey to the West

“This is me keeping my wits about me.”

“This is me keeping my wits about me.”

PHOTO COURTESY of the community asian theatre of the sierra

Journey to the West, 7 p.m. Thursday; 8 p.m. Friday, Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday. $15-$28. Nevada Theatre, 401 Broad St. in Nevada City; (530) 265-2990; Through May 4.
Rated 4.0

How do you take an ancient Chinese epic involving a spiritual quest—a text much longer than Don Quixote or War and Peace—and turn it into an entertaining, comprehensible two-and-a-half-hour play?

The answer, which is evident in the Community Asian Theatre of the Sierra’s attractive production Journey to the West, is to do like the “scripture pilgrim” in this tale: just keep pressing ahead through strange and wonderful encounters, with a bit of celestial intervention (when it looks like the quest is going astray).

Above all, keep your wits about you, and maintain a healthy sense of humor.

And, oh yes, don’t forget to mix in about 200 colorful costumes, with live music and imaginative staging woven throughout.

There’s a Buddhist monk (Danny McCammon), who travels from China into India, crossing innumerable mountains and rivers, to fetch sacred texts. Along the way, the monk is joined by characters of celestial origin who are doing time on Earth for past misdeeds: an impetuous monkey king with a magic rod (Michael Baranowski), a jovial pig always contemplating his next meal (Brett Torgrimson) and a gloomy-looking water demon (Kate Tobie). Whenever this foursome gets into trouble, in swoops Lady Bodhisattva (Trish Adair) to set things aright.

Director Diane Fetterly, known for her astute and innovative visual style, has fun staging the constant action in this show: Fantastic characters and props emerge from every conceivable angle; rivers suddenly freeze, and everyone is skidding around on the ice, etc. And Fetterly understands that this play is basically a comedy with spiritual dimensions.

Musicians Tynowyn Woolman, Lisa Stine and Joe Fajen work on a host of different instruments. Designers Teresa Shea (scenery, costumes, props) and Tim Dugan (lighting) bring in heroic contributions. The actors (too numerous to mention) run the gamut from semipro to earnest amateurs and cute kids. They sometimes bobble a line along the way, but who cares? It’s a lovely show, and CATS deserves kudos for mounting something this big and ambitious, and pulling it off.