A Grimm Thing - Entropy Theatre
A Grimm Thing – Entropy Theatre
Review by James Wilkinson
A Grimm Thing is produced by Entropy Theatre. Directed by Joe Juknievich. Lighting Design: Abigail Wang. The ensemble includes: Isabelle Beagen, Dylan Goodman, Ryan Lemay, adian Madhurt Jo Michael Rezes and Kayleigh Kane.
To begin at the beginning. The poster for Entropy Theatre’s premiere production, A Grimm Thing, depicts a young girl crouched on a path, presumably lost somewhere in the woods. The trees around her scale impossibly high, offering no real shade or comfort. If you look a little further down the lane is a squat wooden cabin, beyond that the mist and fog obscure any real indication of where the path we’re following will lead. Fear and dread hang in the air. We’ve entered the world of the Brothers Grimm. If your encounters with the brothers’ tales are limited to the versions produced by the Disney, you’re going to have to reorient yourself. Many of the original stories take a much darker view of the world than the one pushed by Uncle Walt. Here, blood is spilt, danger lurks around every corner and a ‘happily ever after’ is far from guaranteed.
But even before Disney got its hooks into the material and saturated pop culture with its characters, the original tales were seen as a foundational text for Western culture. There’s a power in those stories that we recognize, which still has a hold on us, hundreds of years after their original compilation. Looking to tap into that vein of narrative authority, the team at Entropy Theatre offers up a devised theater piece that uses the Grimm’s tales as a jumping off point for their own explorations. A note in the program informs us that they “chose to imagine the stories as acts of queer resistance – a Grimm’s Fairy Tales for the modern age. As a result, childlike energy abounds, encounters with transformative bodies are frequent, interruptions are embraced and queerness flourishes.” The result is a theatre piece that defies easy categorization. There are parts that are kind of like a play, but not. Kind of like a dance piece, but not. Kind of like an improvisation, but not. The production borrows from the conventions of each as its stumbles towards what it wants to say. If I’m being honest, (which, I suppose is my job), I’m not convinced that it manages to pull these pieces together in a way that feels wholly satisfying, but it’s fascinating to watch a group attempting to fuse together a framework for a new kind of theatrical language.
This isn’t a production that relies very heavily on plot. For those who are interested, the bones of a narrative are there. A young girl, Gretel (Isabelle Beagen) stumbles into the house of a storytelling witch (Jo Michael Rezes). But the piece doesn’t follow a straight line. It’s more comparable to a meandering walk through the woods with pockets of story encountered along the way. A succession of smaller movement pieces hint at the world around the characters. It’s as though the stories within the witch and within Gretel are unable to be contained within either their minds or bodies. They explode out across the stage for the audience to view.
There are occasionally moments when the production clicks together and the wit that director Joe Juknievich brings to the project shines through. Scenes telling the story of the Fox and the Geese provoke laughs in the audience and there’s a fantastic sequence in the middle of the show that illuminates some of Gretel’s backstory. With some choice movements, a handful of props and no words, the team is able to provide just enough information for the audience to fill in the blanks. We know more than we realize. This is a production that I think we’re meant to feel our way through rather than reason our way through it.
However, I also think that the emphasis on feeling also ends up becoming the show’s biggest crutch. The sound design relies heavily on individual pop songs to create the audience’s emotional attachment to scenes. Perhaps these pieces of music are emotional relevant to players in the scene, but the audience is never clued into how or why. And by attaching a song to each individual sequence within the piece, the evening soon feels episodic. In theory, the scenes between Gretel and the witch should be tying these bits together, but the scripted scenes aren’t strong enough to form a spine that’ll make the evening feel like a cohesive whole. There’s some visual flair at play here, but other than the play’s starting image, where the players slowly come to life like living dolls, we’re not allowed to soak in the imagery to the point where they become meaningful to us. Just about everything passes before it can land.
“Tell your story,” the witch encourages Gretel at the end of A Grimm Thing and as the lights go down, she’s presumably off to figure out just how to do that. I think that the team at Entropy Theatre is still trying to figure out how they want to tell their own stories. But I have faith that they’ll figure it out soon enough.
A Grimm Thing played at the Boston Center for the Arts March 8-10, 2019.
For more information about the company, visit their website: www.entropytheatre.com