Little Ones Theatre’s stage adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s tragically beautiful short story The Nightingale and The Rose resonates with ethereality and mysticism. It tells the story of a nightingale (Jennifer Vuletic) who overhears a student (Brigid Gallacher) saying that the professor’s daughter – with whom he/she is in love from a pining distance – has promised to dance with the student if he/she brings her a red rose. The nightingale resolves to find the red rose for the student, but it is far from a happy ending. In true Wilde fashion, it is darkly funny, queer and twisted.
Little Ones’ adaptation, directed by Stephen Nicolazzo, is beautiful. The cavernous Theatre Works staged is curtained off into an intimate playing space, taken up by a giant full moon (set by Eugyeene Teh) that is beautifully lit by Katie Sfetkidis. The nightingale sits poised against this backdrop in a gorgeous black gown, and sings for us. Trained opera singer and actor Jennifer Vuletic plays the nightingale with passion and a naïve earnestness that is touching to see embodied by a middle-aged woman, and her singing is the best part of the show, and twists in the heart and soul as you watch. Yuchen Wang similarly gives a well-embodied performance that slips between sincerity and a Wilde-esque queer humour with control. As the heartsick student, Brigid Gallacher also gives an admirable performance, though felt a little unsteady, and is convincing in the student’s atypical emotional arc.
The Nightingale and the Rose is beautiful and assured, but still seems a little undercooked. Perhaps it is my acclimatization to the radical adaptation of The Rabble and Fraught Outfit in recent years, but the straightforward bringing forth of Wilde’s story onto the stage – complete with narration – felt like a lost opportunity. It is a wild, delicate and lustful story, though there felt a real lack of eroticism in this production. I also couldn’t help but feel that if Wilde wanted the story to be a play, he would have written it as one, and so to put it so simply onstage left me longing to read the original story rather than marveling at the adaptation.
Still, Little Ones injects the tale with lovely embodiment from the actors, a stunning set and lighting design, and a dark humour that Wilde would have surely admired.
Images: Pia Johnson