Early in the second act of Mary Zimmerman’s “Journey to the West” at the Rogue Theatre, one character says “This isn’t a journey for everybody,” and laughter ripples across the audience. But this isn’t a punch line.
The statement strikes home because “Journey to the West” is not a journey for everyone, either. Running nearly three hours, containing little story beyond three main characters meeting all sorts of difficulties on their travels across China to India in search of original sacred Buddhist texts, Rogue’s beautifully conceived production has little intellectual substance in the dialogue to sustain interest in the characters.
A different journey from Rogue last season, William Faulkner‘s “As I Lay Dying,” also took place mostly on the road. It was filled with emotion. This play has nothing in common with that play.
Wikipedia tells us “’Journey to the West’ is one of theFour Great Classical Novels ofChinese literature.” Apparently something was lost in Zimmerman’s translation. Or maybe it takes a bit of appreciation for China’s cultural history. The first accounting of this expedition comes from the Ming Dynasty in the 16th century.
There are bits of Buddhist teaching scattered through the story, as well as a brief period of silence at the end. To practicing Buddhists, silence has substance. It is far more than empty space. But sitting in the Rogue’s own theater space, silence is silence, American style.
Although the cast numbers 14, only Patty Gallagher gets to concentrate on one role. All the rest have a variety of parts to play. The best news is that Gallagher as the spirited Monkey King gets a lot of stage time to fill her role with colorful personality and physical vigor.
Christopher Johnson has an adventurer’s presence as Tripitaka, the one leading this quest for wisdom. Adding more talent is Matt Bowdren as Pig. It is Tripitaka, Pig and Monkey who share the responsibility of being the protagonist.
Rogue regulars will be happy to know the rest of the cast is equally strong. They are: Jill Baker, Dani Dryer, Marissa Garcia, David Greenwood, Angela Horchem, Ryan Parker Knox, Joseph McGrath, David Morden, Lee Rayment, Dallas Thomas and Matt Walley.
There is no shortage of talent in this list. Cynthia Meier is their director. The sumptuous costumes and masks were a group effort. Jenna Johnson is credited with the elaborate headdresses, Matt Cotton the Dragon King mask.
“Journey to the West” continues through Sept. 23 at the Rogue Theatre, 300 E. University Blvd., with performances at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays (Saturday, Sept. 22 at 2 p.m.), Sundays, 2 p.m. Tickets are $20 Thursdays, $30 Fridays-Sundays. Student rush 15 minutes before each curtain $15 (with ID). For details and reservations, 520-551-2053, or visitwww.theroguetheatre.org