Arts theater review

The Forest of Eoren, a student-written production

A dryad and a lumberjack walk into Gilbert & Sullivan

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Dryads Rebecca Graber, Molly Langston, Kelsey Peterson, and Bobbie Hill Meyers protect their homeland from lumberjacks Joe Blair, Aaron Hammond ’17, Christine Chilingerian, and Tomohiro Soejima ’17 during rehearsals for The Forest of Eoren, a production by the MIT Gilbert & Sullivan Players.
Matthew Pinson

The Forest of Eoren

MIT Gilbert & Sullivan Players

8:30 p.m. Jan. 31,
8 p.m. Feb. 1,
2 p.m. Feb. 2

Twenty Chimneys (2nd floor of Student Center)

“It’s like a Charlie’s Angels pose with stuffed animals”, says the director. “Remember, you’re the spokesdryad.”

It’s rehearsal for The Forest of Eoren, a new operetta that the MIT Gilbert & Sullivan Players (MITG&SP) are premiering this weekend. The show was written and composed by Matthew Bede Pinson G, former president of the Players. Bright with invention, yet clearly inspired by the original Gilbert & Sullivan comic operas, Eoren will charm devotees of the British duo, as well as those who simply want beautiful music and a good laugh.

Pinson, who hails from Australia, was born into a family of G&S fans, but had never performed in a show until he arrived at MIT nearly five years ago to start a PhD in physics. He auditioned for The Mikado and was instantly hooked. “I had so much fun that when it was over, I needed to keep operetta in my life, and auditions for The Gondoliers were over a month away,” he said, “I decided to write my own.”

Pinson’s first operetta, The Marriage of the Miner’s Maiden, was sung through by MITG&SP, and delighted the cast so much that he felt encouraged to begin composing another at once. “I wanted something ridiculous, so you don’t have to take it too seriously,” said Pinson. “Magical creatures are a good way to go.” And thus was born The Forest of Eoren, home to a band of dryads who have accidentally fallen in love with lumberjacks. Confusion and hilarity ensue, identities are mistaken, and deception is rife, until all loose ends and couples are joined in a perfect happy ending.

A dedicated cast of students and visiting musicians has worked through IAP to bring the show from score to stage in under a month. “With a new show, you automatically have more creativity involved,” said music director Sarah Hager, who works as a choral conductor in Lexington. “There are no recordings that you can listen to.”

The biggest shock, coming out of Eoren, is that it really isn’t a shock at all. The language and music are patently Gilbert & Sullivan, if on a slightly smaller scale. The libretto abounds in witty banter and airy persiflage. Pinson takes full advantage of his arboreal subject matter in such delightful rhymes as “No more let our chorus be sorrowful / Of great joy we will find tomorrow full! / Trees will shine out resplendent with chlorophyll.” As with the best of Sullivan, even the sorrowful tunes are lovely, and are destined to stick in your head with the persistence of The Pirates of Penzance.

Kelsey Peterson (women’s chorus) has sung with the group for 14 shows, besides appearances as producer and costume director. “It feels like it’s this G&S show that I happened to never see before,” she said.

G&S aficionados will recognize nods to many of the original operettas, including a “weeping maidens” chorus reminiscent of Patience and an a cappella quartet, complete with “fa-la-la”s, that recalls the madrigal from The Mikado. Despite this stock material, however, Eoren comes across as fresh and new, with an innocence that is hard to come by in any theatrical production. “The show is just entirely adorable — it’s distilled joy,” said Kathryn Noonan (Queen of the Dryads), “I would definitely put it up there as better than some G&S shows.”

Eoren lasts a single act — about an hour, with no intermission. Pinson has effectively miniaturized the common two-act structure by writing what sounds like an Act I Finale to chop the action neatly into two halves. The score includes parts for seven soloists, men’s and women’s choruses, and accompaniment by piano and clarinet. Refreshingly, the cast is gender-balanced, a contrast from the normal G&S canon, where female characters can be harder to find.

Pinson says that he doesn’t want “people to think that there’s anything too deep” in Eoren. “You could say there’s an environmental message here — don’t cut down trees — but that’s not really it.” As with traditional Gilbert & Sullivan, the goal is to be light, charming, and hilarious, and Eoren succeeds completely.