Theater review: ‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ enhanced with sights and sounds

This is not your old-school “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” Upstream Theater has blown the dust off this 18th century lyrical ballad to present an innovative interpretation of the classic poem many of us read in English class.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s epic poem moves us here, while it might not have in a stuffy high school classroom. Its archaic language, once hard to decipher, is revitalized through a judicious adaptation by director Patrick Siler. The familiar words in this cautionary tale of redemption ring true — and to this day still symbolize fate and consequences.

Siler uses the intimate stage at the Kranzberg Arts Center to full effect, enhancing the story through sights and sounds. Original music performed by the indie-rock duo Sleepy Kitty (Millstadt native Paige Brubeck and Evan Sult) adds emotion and atmosphere through its score while illustrations by Gustave Dore are projected onto a white backdrop that also doubles as a sail.

The production also benefits from a superb trio of performers. The venerable Jerry Vogel, whose performances are always impressive no matter what era, portrays the grizzled old sailor with terrified eyes and the body posture of regret. He commands the stage as he chillingly describes his curse, watching 200 men die while he lives. His storytelling gifts are advantageous as he describes the careless act of cruelty, killing the great Albatross sea bird, which sets off tragedy.

Patrick Blindauer and Shanara Gabrielle fill numerous supporting roles well, transforming themselves quickly with a costume and a change in demeanor.

Kyra Bishop’s scenic design is a marvel of simplicity creating a ship’s deck that evokes sea and land too, while Lou Bird’s tattered costumes suit the grubby seafarers and supernatural beings.

The density of the original work might not be completely illuminated, but the cast and crew give it a Herculean effort, bringing it to life with gritty determination. Centuries later, we can all identify with an albatross around our neck.

The show runs without an intermission.