Theatre Review: The Secret in the Wings – dark, fun and wildly inventive

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Once upon a time, long before the sex and violence of television or the latest Hollywood blockbuster, children were told bedtime fairy tales complete with monsters, cannibalism, zombies and even incest.  Over time these fairy tales, unlike their modern entertainment counterparts, became watered down and some were all but lost.  In The Secret in the Wings, on stage at Langara’s Studio 58 until December 5, 2010, playwright Mary Zimmerman resurrects a septet of these little known gruesome tales, in a terrifically stylized production that is a delightful antithesis of shows traditionally seen this time of year.

Opening in the basement of a typical suburban family, we watch as young Heidi is all but abandoned by her parents under the care of the neighbor Mr Fitzpatrick who Heidi declares to be an ogre, complete with a six foot tail that slithers behind him.  In an effort to distract her from his own tail, Fitzpatrick sets out to tell Heidi a series of tales from others.

In the first, the wives of three princes are banished by a jealous and angry nursemaid, blinding them and setting them atop a mountain with no food that leads to two of them eating their children for survival.  In another, a queen is resurrected by her loving husband who, rather than rewarding him for bringing her back to life, takes to the arms of another man.  In a third, a king looks to his young daughter as the replacement for his dead wife.  And so it goes with each of the remainder of the seven tales leading us deeper “into the woods” but not without a little humour, and even song or two, helping to light the way.

The Secret in the Wings
Mark Shelling, Melanie Desbiens, Anton Lipovetsky and Kendall Wright in The Secret in the Wings. Photo by David Cooper.

Given the multitude of characters that populate Zimmerman’s take on these fairy tales, it is definitely an ensemble effort from the acting students at Studio 58.  Each gets to show off their strengths whether it be in the comedy, music or movement.  Indeed, it is in the variety and stylization of the seven fairy tales that gives the show the bulk of its energy and appeal, with the cast easily up to the challenges laid out by inventiveness of both Zimmerman and director Mike Stack.  One could feel the actors freely giving over to each of the stories, much like the children who would hear them.

The production team, including set (Yvan Morissette), costumes (Mara Gottler) and lighting (Darren Boquist), all help to effectively immerse us inside these gloomy tales with a dark whimsy.

A wonderfully dark, fun and wildly inventive show, The Secret in the Wings reminds us that indeed, fairy tales aren’t just for children.

4 Out of 5 Stars The Secret in the Wings
Studio 58, Langara College
18 November – 5 December 2010

Tickets are $12 – $22 available online or by calling 604.684.2787.

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