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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

The Secret in the Wings
Entrances at Seattle Repertory Theatre

The Secret in the Wings
Tiffany Scott
Adaptor/Director Mary Zimmerman has given Seattle Rep audiences hours of wildly imaginative pleasure with such earlier imported productions as Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci, Metamorphoses and The Odyssey. The Secret in the Wings, originally developed and performed by Lookinglass Theatre of Chicago, is perhaps the most accessible of these shows for younger audiences (say above 8 or 9 years of age), while scarcely less of a fully satisfying theatrical journey for the chronological adults in the house. This heady, haunting and humorous hybrid of several lesser known fairy tales, goes into darker parts of the woods than Sondheim and Lapine did with their sublime and clever musical, but with similar success.

The set-up for The Secret in the Wings involves a young girl, Heidi, whose gadabout socialite parents go off to one of their myriad dinner parties and leave her with a new sitter, Mr. Donahue from next door. She tries to explain to them that the gentleman is an ogre, but they are out the door before she can really make her case. Mr. Donahaue has a long, creepy tail, but he also has tales to tell Heidi. Of young men transformed by a father's curse to become swans, and the valiant sister who sacrifices years of her own life to save them. Of a Princess who beheads the suitors who cannot make her laugh. Of a family haunted by the spirit of a young daughter whose greed proved her undoing. These tales and several others are woven together and often started and then interrupted, to be concluded later, leaving us childlike in our curiosity over whether they ended happily ever after. Zimmerman honors what is best in literature by never making anything too literal, and letting our minds provide the answers, and her production designers complete the vision.

Dan Ostling creates mystical realms out of what initially looks like a suburban rambler of a house, complemented admirably by TJ Gerckens' sometimes subdued, sometimes sinister lighting design. Mara Blumenfeld's costumes are imaginative without unnecessary flourishes, and André Pluess and Ben Suessman's ingenious sound design and original musical compositions are hauntingly other-worldly (though some amplification of actors was at times muddy on opening night).

Christopher Donahue as the ogre/baby-sitter (as well as the father of the lads who become swans) captures menace and empathy with equal dexterity, and you may well not guess - I didn't - what the ogre's secret is, but it's a doozy. Tiffany Scott as Heidi taps her inner pre-teen with a beguiling honesty. The rest of the impressive company - Mark Alhadeff, Raymond Fox, Erik Lochtefeld, Philip R. Smith, Laura Eason, Anne Fogarty and Louise Lamson - are totally at home with their various characters (much of the cast has long associations with the play) but never for an instant are on auto-pilot.

The Secret in the Wings is so full of ideas and details that not to consider seeing it a second time seems absurd. Not to see it at all however, would be a treasonous act for any theatre lover within driving distance of the Seattle Rep.

The Secret in the Wings runs through March 26, 2005 at Seattle Repertory Theatre on the Bagley Wright stage, Seattle Center. For more information go to the Rep's web-site www.seattlerep.org.


Photo: 2004 by T. Charles Erickson



- David-Edward Hughes



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