“The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” is another Fiona Shaw tour de force.

By Lucy Komisar

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,
‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,’ Fiona Shaw as the mariner, photo Richard Termine.

Fiona Shaw is one of the grand actors of our time who could pull drama out of reading a phone directory. Her “Medea” at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 2002 was at once elevating and chilling.

Her latest appearance at BAM marries the same artistry and fancy to tell a story about a mariner‘s shooting of an albatross and its awful effect on the boat and its crew. Her text is “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by the early 19th-century British poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

The Irish Shaw clad in black sweater and pants, is the mariner. Her native accented voice is soft but strong and intense. She speaks the poetic rhymes with drama and cadences.

The set is dominated by a sail which is sometimes aloft and sometimes plummets to the ground. It drops at a storm which Shaw creates with a howl. Director Phyllida Lloyd adeptly backs Shaw’s acting skills with stagecraft to heighten the effect.

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,
‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,’ Daniel Hay-Gordon and Fiona Shaw, photo Richard Termine.

An albatross, played by the young dancer Daniel Hay-Gordon with his arms bent like wings, arrives and is seen as a good omen, following the ship as it moves through the ice. But the seabird is shot by the mariner wielding a cross bow and falls, twisting and dropping to earth. Shaw throws Hay-Gorden down and he grabs Shaw in what will be a metaphorical struggle.

But then the small wooden sailing ship is becalmed and stuck in ice. The crew members hang the dead bird around the mariner‘s neck. Members of the crew begin to die, all retribution for the mariner‘s offense against nature.

Later, the mariner tells the story to a guest at a wedding feast, a task he will have to do repeatedly, broadcasting his guilt. The message is  

“He prayeth well, who loveth well
Both man and bird and beast.
He prayeth best, who loveth best
All things both great and small.”

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” Written by Samuel Taylor Coleridge; directed by Phillida Lloyd; choreographed by Kim Brandstrup. Brooklyn Academy of Music, Harvey Theater, 651 Fulton St., Brooklyn. Dec 10 to 22, 2013. Text of the poem. 12/26/13.

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