The Immigrants' Theatre Project's play Little Pitfall opens with a telling discussion about the chopping down of trees in the forest. As this play is essentially a fairy tale, this conversation is significant, a nod to the loss of the magical realm of fairy tales in contemporary life. Yet despite the loss of the magical woods, Czech playwright Markéta Bláhová's play, translated by Jiri Topel and directed by Marcy Arlin, attempts to create a modern day fairy tale that re-envisions this genre for our time.
Taking its cue from "Little Red Riding Hood," Little Pitfall focuses on two sisters: Ayenna (Nannette Deasy) and Noanna (Eileen Rivera) who have gotten lost in the woods while looking for Ares, their wolfhound (cleverly depicted by a large puppet manned by two actors). Unlike the timid Little Red Riding Hood, both sisters are sexually voracious and attempt to seduce an unnamed young man (Tzahi Moskovitz) who is wandering in the forest. Ayenna successfully entraps her male prey, but if the seduction feels somewhat quick and unconvincing, it is only because the convention of fairy tale storytelling allows for random and unusual events to occur in the woods without much provocation or reason. Though Noanna attempts to woo the young man herself in what becomes a case of sibling rivalry, she fails, only provoking the man to shoot Ares, much to the horror of her sister Ayenna.
The play's most interesting facet is its reimagining of gender and sexual roles. As Bruno Bettelheim the famous psychoanalyst has noted, fairy tale woods are infused with the stuff of sexual longing and desire. Bláhová takes these subtle sexual undercurrents and makes them explicit in her play, having the older sister Ayenna sleep with the young man. Instead of the Big Bad Wolf, Bláhová has presented us with two female wolves in sheep's clothing, thereby reversing traditional notions of hunter and hunted.
Interwoven with this plot thread is the tale of Yesika (Adriana Gaviria) and Nonika (Mayura Baweja) and their repulsive father (Oscar de la Fé Colón) whom they detest and taunt. Are these young women, artfully acted by Gaviria and Baweja, meant to be the younger versions of Ayenna and Noanna? If so, why do they have different names? Why do they hate their father so? Has he sexually abused them? These questions are never fully answered. At the end of the play, the two sets of sisters meet in the woods and bond, confirming their shared experiences.
The play's plot is somewhat confusing, never entirely explaining the motivations of the sisters or why they play the games of seduction that they do. This confusion is not made any clearer by the play's ambiguous time period. Little Pitfall evokes both the timeless quality of fairy tales in its mythic woodsy setting, designed by Heather Dunbar, and lighting, by Zdenek Kriz, but evokes different temporal modes in its costumes, designed by Carol Brys Fellows. Ayenna and Noanna are clothed in jeans, bowling shoes, and contemporary tops while the younger sisters are done up in frilly white dresses with colored sashes that are pitch-perfect storybook fare. Yet both sets of sisters make allusions to modern-day elements such as airplanes and sonograms, which leads one to assume that all the events have to take place in the present. Though these modern allusions do help to bring a sense of the mythological power of fairy tales into contemporary life, the overall effect is one of unevenness and obfuscation.
Though Little Pitfall is a slight work that doesn't entirely succeed due to its amorphous plot, it does attempt to make old-fashioned fairy tales relevant for the 21st century which is an admirable project indeed.
Immigrants Theatre Project and the Czech Center of New York