When English theatre ensemble Stan's Cafe makes its debut at the Wexner Center for the Arts with "The Cardinals," words will be at a minimum. But that doesn't lessen the play's combination of entertainment and impact.

When English theatre ensemble Stan’s Cafe makes its debut at the Wexner Center for the Arts with “The Cardinals,” words will be at a minimum. But that doesn’t lessen the play’s combination of entertainment and impact.

“The Cardinals” is a performance with only a few words; it’s about three cardinals and their Muslim female stage director who are putting on a puppet show about the history of the world through a biblical lens.

This play-within-a-play — which actually features no actual puppets; the cardinals enter the puppet theater and act out the narrative — spans from the Crusades to some distant apocalypse. But there’s just as much action going on behind the scenes. The audience gets a view of both. Everything is conveyed through the movements, actions, expressions and interactions of the actors.

The complex movements and choreography in “The Cardinals” were daunting, but, ultimately, that challenge ended up improving the performance.

“At the beginning it was almost impossible to perform because it was so intricate,” said artistic director James Yarker. “Those first few performances were hilarious and heartbreaking because the cast put so much effort into this impossible thing. Sometimes it worked and other times they were smashing into each other or dropping things. We incorporated that and included these very elementary performance errors, which are for the most part things that have gone wrong in earlier performances of the show.”

While the action and foibles of the cast create entertainment, there is also a contemplative conversation on faith and ideology.

“We can see how the cast cooperates with each other, how that works with their Muslim stage manager and how they come into conflict with each other,” Yarker said. “We knew we were striding boldly into what could be a very contentious field. We made it with a lot of consideration and earnestness. We were very pleased that no one’s taken offense to it, and we’ve had people say it’s challenged their beliefs.”

Photo courtesy of Graeme Braidwood