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Borough Tales: Brooklyn

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

Want a reason to believe in fairy tales?

Once upon a time, White Bird Productions conceived the idea of a series of five shows resetting familiar stories in the five boroughs of New York, and what is now playing at the Blue Heron Arts Center is the first collection of shows.

Five, to be exact, each by a different Brooklyn playwright, and each with a different director. The shows vary greatly in subject matter, but all have in common the innovative ways they update their stories to modern day Brooklyn.

The scripts also vary greatly in quality. During the first act, they tend to range from the mildly clever (Rapunzel reset in the Williamsburgh Savings Bank building) to the uncomfortably surreal (Snow White with rapping dwarves and practically a punk version of "Some Day My Prince Will Come"). The third story, though, The Little Matchgirl is much more unsettling and relentlessly bleak. Wildly different in tone from the other pieces, it feels out of place and forced.

The second act is an almost exponential improvement, with Twelve Brothers being an exciting, shockingly funny retelling written by Camila Jones and Jeffrey M. Jones and directed by Page Burkholder. Though a serious story - a king threatens the life of their unborn child if it's born a boy like the previous twelve, or of all the others if it's a girl - it is almost nonstop laughs: Confusing subway service, delightfully slapdash imagery (watch for the crow!), and take-offs on The Producers, William Shatner, and a lot more all play a part; at times, this piece is so good, you don't want it to end.

When it does, though, the final story, Lucky Hans, opens with great promise. It's a mini-musical chronicling the adventures of Hans - responsible for keeping the Williamsburgh Savings Bank clock lit - on his first day off in seven years to visit his mother. The songs (music by Danny Ashkenasi, lyrics by Marjorie Duffield, who also wrote the book) are cute, and the show in general is amusing. But director Jean Wagner has paced the show dreadfully, making an otherwise warm and entertaining show feel like something of a downer as the last piece of the evening.

So, though Borough Tales: Brooklyn has a game, energetic cast - led by Christian Rummel, Jacqui Sutton, and Amie Bermowitz, who all give very strong performances throughout - one amazing piece, and a couple of other decent ones, it's still a fairly uneven experience...

...at least from this adult's point of view. As I was leaving the theater, I heard a young boy's voice ring up to the adult who had brought him, clear as anything: "I can be an actor."

That sure made me believe in fairy tales.

It also makes me believe kids are probably going to get even more out of it than adults will, and adults shouldn't pass up the opportunity to take them. The adults are going to get different things from kids, and adults may not like everything they see, but if the kids get nothing more than a lifelong love of theatre or a desire to be a part of it, they will truly live happily ever after.

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Borough Tales: Brooklyn
Through March 23
Blue Heron Arts Center, 123 East 24th Street between Park and Lexington Avenues
Schedule and Tickets: Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200