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San Francisco by Richard Connema

Mary Zimmerman’s The Secret in the Wings is Imaginary Theatre

Also see Richard's review of Dame Edna: Back with a Vengeance!

Secret in the Wings
Laura Eason, Tiffany Scott and Louise Lamson
The Berkeley Repertory Theatre opens its 2004-2005 season with the West Coast premiere of Tony Award winner Mary Zimmerman’s The Secret in the Wings. Ms. Zimmerman, the noted playwright of Metamorphoses and The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci, has written a dreamlike play based on several European fairy tales in a uniquely theatrical staging. This co-production with the Seattle Repertory Theatre plays at the Roda Theatre through October 17.

The Secret of Wings intertwines elements from Beauty and the Beast with four lesser known stories into a visionary exploration of the darker side of human desires. This fairy tale is not for children but an invitation to adults to view a storybook experience. The four stories are the little known European fairy tales “Three Blind Queens,” ”Allerleirah,” “The Princess Who Wouldn’t Laugh” and “Silent for Seven Years.”

Mary Zimmerman’s visually captivating story opened last year at the Lookingglass Theatre in Chicago, where Hedy Weiss of the Chicago Sun Times called the production “hauntingly beautiful, a meticulously cut gem of theatrical craft.” The Seattle Repertory Company will present the 90-minute piece in February 2005.

The Secret of Wings' first scene is something like the classic Beauty and the Beast. Two parents (Raymond Fox and Anne Fogarty) tell their young daughter Heidi (Tiffany Scott) that she is going to be babysat by the neighbor upstairs, a Mr. Donohue (Christopher Donahue). The young girl tells her parents that he is a monster with a long tail, but the parents think it is just a young child’s fantasy - they laugh and leave her alone. Sure enough, spooky old Mr. Donohue looks like a fugitive from a slasher movie and comes down the steps sporting a long dinosaur tail. He says “Heidi, will you marry me?” Heidi replies “No, Mr. Donohue, I won’t.” The man opens a large book and a fairy tale begins. These same words are repeated several times during the performance and each time Mr. Donohue is rejected. However, since we know the end of Beauty and the Beast, we know it will come out all right.

Each tale ends with a climactic point of disaster, all of which are resolved in the last scenes of the one act fantasy play. However, the main problem is that sometimes the stories become confused and they get away from the play's framework. Much is told directly to the audience and through stilted dialogue among the characters. Many times it becomes almost impossible to follow, especially the story of “Allerleirah.” There are songs and some lovely choreographed slow movements.

Some of the stories are charming, such as the tale of “The Princess Who Wouldn’t Laugh,” which is hilarious. The king wants his daughter to marry a prince, but she really does not want to be attached. The king asks three princes from other kingdoms to come and make the princess laugh. He who succeeds will marry the beautiful princess. However, the princess puts in a condition: for those who do not succeed - “off with their heads.” The first two princes (Mark Alhadeff and Erik Lochtefeld) look like they are auditioning for a Las Vegas lounge act, one like a hammy comedian and the other a crooner. Both are excellent. The third prince (David Kersnar) is absolutely hilarious imitating a chicken and a half lizard/half man; he brings down the house. The princess is played by Louise Lamson in the style of Carol Burnett in Once Upon a Mattress.

The Secret In the Wings boasts a super cast of nine players and most are Zimmerman veterans. The actors play various roles through the one-act play and the program does not list who is playing what.

The set looks like a grimy house with a long set of stairs in the back of the stage that opens up to a door in the rafters. Every time the door opens, we get a brilliant shaft of glaring white. There is a small loft in the upper part of stage right where an actor sometimes resides, a trap door that goes to the underworld where people come and go and a few vintage '40s floor lamps that sometimes provide the only light on the stage. It is a strange and spooky set.

The Secret of the Wings plays at the Roda Theatre, 2015 Addison Street, Berkeley, Ca though October 17th. Tickets can be obtained by calling 510-647-2949, 888-4BRTix or www.berkeleyrep.org. Eurydice opens October 15 and the West Coast premier of Polk County by Zora Neale Hurston and Dorothy Waring starts on November 19.


Photo: Kevin Berne


Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area


- Richard Connema



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