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Originally published Monday, October 29, 2012 at 5:30 AM

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'Odin's Horse' skillfully weaves together big trees, big questions — and Nordic myth

A review of "Odin's Horse," being staged by Mirror Stage in Seattle through Nov. 11, 2012, about a tree-sitting protester and the writer who encounters her.

Seattle Times theater critic

ADDITIONAL PERFORMANCES

'Odin's Horse'

By Robert Koon. Through Nov. 11, produced by Mirror Stage at Ethnic Cultural Center, 3940 Brooklyn Ave. N.E., Seattle; $22-$25 (206-686-1280 or www.mirrorstage.org).
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Theater review |

In "Odin's Horse," characters expound on Nordic mythology, give detailed instructions for cutting down giant trees and lay out the realities of pediatric oncology.

Playwright Robert Koon's drama provides a lot of material to digest. Some of it is delivered in the Icelandic language.

So it is a measure of Koon's theatrical skill, and the Mirror Stage company's thoughtful staging, that the West Coast premiere of "Odin's Horse" at the Ethnic Cultural Theatre is not dry and didactic. Rather, it is a humane, multivoiced rumination on values and environmental conundrums.

Daniel Christensen has the floor for much of the show. Stiff at first, he gradually ingratiates himself as Arman, a wry writer who feels rather adrift after his first big literary success.

Stories are created from pieces and shards, he tells us, as he narrates, in roundabout fashion, a search for literary inspiration that became a profound encounter — and a re-examination of his core priorities and beliefs.

When Arman's girlfriend, Callie (Hannah Mootz), takes a high-end job as a corporate publicist in San Francisco, he tags along on her first big assignment. It's a doozy: She's sent to Humboldt County to defend a timber company's logging of old-growth redwoods, which ardent activists are protesting by taking up residence in trees. (The play draws on actual protests of this kind.)

Curious about the issue, Arman contacts a tree sitter calling herself Astra (Anna Warren). Cellphone conversations about her radical act of resistance evolve into more intimate discussions of their feelings about nature and the life choices they've made, and a special bond is created.

That bond causes a rift in Arman's affair with Callie — but for reasons that in no way resemble the usual romantic triangle.

Koon doesn't take that easy way out. And he avoids the temptation to make earnest, dedicated Astra a shining martyr and Callie's shrewdly folksy boss (well played by Joe Ivy) a villainous mogul.

Koon grants every character a measure of sensitivity and individuality, including two loggers Arman meets.

Drawn without condescension, and played by Alex Garnett and Stan Shields, the men talk of their community's economic dependence on the timber industry and frustration with dangerous environmental protests — concerns not easily dismissed, no matter where your sympathies lie.

Most unusually, if more bumpily, "Odin's Horse" also works in images of Iceland (Arman's birthplace), and finds resonant symbolism in an ancient legend of the Norse god Odin, whose fate and the fate of the world are entangled with a monumental tree. It's a complex, hard-to-decipher metaphor, as is Odin's eight-legged horse's role in the myth.

The play leaves you wanting to know more, delve deeper into the material at hand — from the Icelandic poetry Arman quotes to the current politics of logging old-growth forests. (Postshow forums on Nordic mythology and sustainable forestry will be held Nov. 4 and 11.)

While simply staged, "Odin's Horse" is layered with meaningful arguments. It marks a fine return of Mirror Stage to producing theater, after more than a decade's hiatus.

Misha Berson: mberson@seattletimes.com

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