Artistic Director Shawn LaCount and Director of Marketing Summer L. Williams, winner of the 2009 Elliot Norton Award for Best Director, share the directing duties for Grimm. They use Maguire's The Seven Stage a Comeback (based on "Little Snow White") as a three-part framing device to open each of the two acts, as well as for the finale. The playwrights introduce their own works by recorded voiceovers, which provides a little peek into their thought processes for the adaptations without too much disruption between scenes. Three more of the plays are based on the very familiar "The Frog King," "Hansel and Gretel" and "Little Red Riding Hood," but the remainder come from the lesser known stories "The White Bride and the Black One," "Clever Else" and "Stories About Snakes."
In keeping with the C1 mission of increasing the accessibility of fringe theatre among Boston's diverse under-35 population, the cast of twelve skews to the younger end of the spectrum, but most have impressive resumés, nonetheless. Each plays two or three roles and displays their range and energy. Becca A. Lewis may travel the longest arc, from a heavily swaddled and rather dim dwarf seemingly interested only in where her next meal is coming from, to a blindfolded, stripped down to her scanty red bra and panties Red Riding Hood engaged in a battle of wits with her lupine captor. With her variety of facial expressions and unabashed attitude, Nicole Prefontaine draws your attention as Gretch in Half Handsome and Regrettable and as a bitter, tell-it-like-it-is mom in Thanksgiving (based on "Clever Else"). As she did in C1's January production of The Good Negro, Kris Sidberry gives a worthy performance as a radiant Snow White, a young girl who befriends a snake and the princess who turns a frog into royalty.
Perhaps for the simplicity of its presentation as well as its humor, my favorite segment is Diamond's The White Bride and The Black Bride. Tasia A. Jones, Molly Kimmerling and Yurie Collins, wearing school girl uniforms, are seated onstage holding large, leather tomes from which they "read" the politically incorrect story in which God turns an evil mother and daughter "black as night and ugly as sin," and the good stepdaughter "white and fair as day." The three actresses turn the telling into an amusing showing of just how outrageous some of these Grimm tales can be and appear to have a lot of fun with Diamond's clever take. Jones is also endearing in her role as a young girl narrating Cry Baby Jones (based on "The Frog King") by ADEkoje.
Kimmerling also plays one of the three moms in Thanksgiving in a heartfelt turn as the one who can't understand how she ended up clipping coupons and shopping at Market Basket. Greenidge intentionally chose to adapt an obscure tale in order to pursue her vision and not have to hoe a familiar row. Instead, she has given us characters who are familiar (partly because they speak with Boston accents and reference area locales) who are facing all too familiar dire straits, economically and in their relationships.
If a standby is needed for Jane Lynch, send out the casting call for Victoria Marsh. In addition to sharing physical similarities, Marsh channels the commanding traits of "Glee"'s Sue Sylvester as the tour guide at the Gingerbread House. She shows more complex emotions as the mother in Stories About Snakes. Speaking of snakes, Lonnie McAdoo is a charmer as the anthropomorphized reptile, and Raymond J. Ramirez is seductively unctuous as Red's wolf.
Christina Todesco's set features a multi-colored slope to one side which is used for climbing and sliding, giant paper sunflowers suspended from overhead, and the aforementioned gingerbread house. Costumes by Miranda Kau Giurleo include tattered work clothes for the dwarves, giant diapers for the Cry Babies and modern garb for the moms. John Malinowski (lighting) and Arshan Gailus (sound) add their artistry to the overall fantasy effect of the staging.
Witnessing a world premiere is exciting and, with Grimm being an anthology, there is an air of anticipation for each segment. What sort of presentation will this one have? How has the author altered the original fairy tale? A few of the seven stories feel like they go on too long, but the entire show is about two hours and fifteen minutes, typical play length. There is no shortage of creativity in the adaptations by the collaborators and, although they follow the blueprints of their chosen tales, they are sharing their personal perspectives of what the stories have to say. It is also important to note that, diverging from the outcome of many of the Brothers Grimm tales, Grimm has a happy ending.
Grimm: The Brothers' Tales Remixed & Re-Imagined ... Performances by Company One through August 14 at Boston Center for the Arts, Roberts Studio Theatre, 539 Tremont Street, Boston; Box Office 617-933-8600 or www.BostonTheatreScene.com. For more information, visit www.companyone.org.
Written by John ADEkoje, Lydia R. Diamond, Marcus Gardley, Kirsten Greenidge, John Kuntz, Melinda Lopez, Gregory Maguire
Directed by Shawn LaCount and Summer L.Williams; Arshan Gailus, Sound Design/Composer; Miranda Giurleo, Costume Design; John R. Malinowski, Lighting Design; Cristina Todesco, Set Design; Alycia Marucci, Stage Manager; Andrea Blesso Albuquerque, Choreographer
Cast (in alphabetical order): Yurie Collins, Tasia A. Jones, Molly Kimmerling, Becca A. Lewis, Victoria Marsh, Keith Mascoll, Lonnie McAdoo, Nicole Prefontaine, Raymond J. Ramirez, Mason Sand, Kris Sidberry, Mark Vanderzee