The Drama Club’s Wild, Wicked, Wyrd: Fairytale Time does justice to the quintessential, unrefined, primitive roots of fairy and folk tales, with a taste for sardonic, grotesque humor and a nonchalance for the extraordinary. We’ve all heard that Grimm’s Fairy Tales have been sanitized, but many of us never knew that the Grimm’s Brothers were basically taking dictation from servants, pub dwellers and other members of the working class. Few, if any, began as stories for children. Many fairy tales find their origins in oral tradition, with truly creepy and disturbing plots. Little Red Riding Hood evolved from a story called The Grandmother’s Tale in which the little girl is tricked into imbibing her own grandmother’s blood and doing a striptease for the wolf, disguised in granny drag. “What shall I do with my dress? Throw it on the fire, child, you won’t be needing it again.” It gets much, much worse, but we’ll leave it at that.
Lighter Than Air, the first fairy tale, involves two sister fishes (mermaids?) Luna and Leah, who spend all their time together, their long hair intertwined. Leah expresses a yearning desire for heaven, or ascension, or spiritual growth, or this sort of thing. A pelican of dubious intent promises to answer Leah’s “prayers.” Though Luna, much wiser and experienced, tries to reason with her, she can’t disabuse Leah of her misguided faith in the pelican. Though simple on its surface, John Flores’ Lighter Than Air considers the finer shades of issues like trust, love, independence and pure motives.
Michael Federico’s Mother Holly again considers two sisters, living with their father, under the shadow of a mother who has passed away. [The absence of a parent is always an unmistakable signal in fairy tales.] Margo, the older sister, tries to help her dad’s variety show by singing, but even though she’s talented, audiences (such as they are) are less than enthusiastic. Heading to the woods in search of food for her desolate family, Margo first encounters The Bread Man (dressed like a down at the heels pimp?) who unlike the Gingerbread Man, welcomes cannibalism, despite the fact it’s not an altogether pleasurable sensation for him. Is this a metaphor for sex? Self-sacrifice? Who can say? He sends Margo to a witch, Mother Holly. She asks for two weeks of housework and a lullaby at bedtime, in exchange for the singing gift that will save her family. The lullaby soothes Mother Holly’s loneliness, and Margo figures it’s a fair exchange. When she returns, she packs the nightclub every night, which makes sister Elisabeth jealous.
Written by Maryam Obaidallah Baig, Jo Chaho Tum, is a fanciful yarn of a princess finding her heart’s desire and knowing when intuition outweighs propriety. It actually begins in the ranch home of a bucolic Texas grandfather, telling his rebellious lesbian granddaughter a story from the Far East. Just Desserts, by John Flores, owes a tremendous debt to Looney Tunes and Grand Guignol. It pits a Bear against a Rabbit, vying for the title of Greatest Chef in the World. Since both their cupboards are bare, they are forced to extreme measures when an a spacey blonde American tourist appears. Exaggerating the traditional cartoon mayhem of wielding axes, cleavers and saws to ridiculous lengths (that would put Itch and Scratchy to shame) the two chefs mutilate themselves in silhouette. We are so utterly overwhelmed by this mix of the grisly and ridiculous we laugh in helpless disbelief.
Wild, Wicked, Wyrd taps into the forgotten, vivid, chilling scaffolding of present-day fairy tales, creating new narratives for the show. I’m guessing the three W’s in the title point to an all-female cast, the man drag adding yet another bizarre layer to the trippy, queasy, intriguing experience. It would be remiss of me to neglect mentioning Amanda West, Korey Kent, John M. Flores, Jim Kuenzer, Jeffrey Schmidt and Steph Garrett whose collaborative efforts created costumes, scenery and numerous awe-inspiring, dazzling and spellbinding effects. There is something unequivocally remarkable in the sorcery this team accomplished without spending lots of coin or using complicated technology. Spangles, sparkles, shadow puppets, masks. It will mess with your mind, and, you know, it’s a beautiful thing.
The Drama Club presents Wild, Wicked, Wyrd: Fairytale Time, playing October 15th-29th, 2016. Bryant Hall, 3636 Turtle Creek Blvd, Dallas, Texas 75204. www.thedramaclub.org. 214.337.0004