Review of Grimm

You’d be hard pressed to find anyone who isn’t familiar with the Brothers Grimm and their collected fairy and folktales. Cinderella, Hansel and Gretel, Snow White — the list goes on and on, and most everyone has childhood memories associated with these stories. Dark Horse Theatre’s most recent show, Grimm, pulls from three of the more recognizable tales, setting the action in a decidedly more grown-up atmosphere of gossip, gambling and happily-ever-never.

A sizable cast of 11 plays all the roles needed to unravel the stories of Sleeping Beauty, Goldilocks and Little Red Riding Hood. Two catalyst characters, the Gingerbread Man and Fairy, roll into the town called Grimm, size up the locals, and set about meddling and manipulating them all down the road to unfortunate conclusions.

Three bear brothers, Papa, Mama and Baby Bear, run a bakery and a card game in town. The Prince is in heavy debt to Papa Bear, and has eyes for Bea, a princess with a wealthy kingdom. Goldi, a new arrival in town, is looking to pad her pockets with someone else’s spoils — and is looking right into the bear den.

Finally, Rose, with her blood-red hood swathed around her neck, is promised in marriage to someone she does not love, and only has eyes for a wolfish, scruffy outsider who spends a great deal of time in the woods. Once the Fairy begins to involve herself in curses, suggestions and machinations, all narrated by Ginger, the audience watches events unfold in both familiar and unfamiliar ways.

Clocking in at only an hour, the show could leave the audience wanting a bit more depth and discovery, especially as the characters in their mature forms are far more interesting and multi-faceted than in the children’s versions of these stories. For example, the Prince character, having enlisted the Fairy’s help in cursing Bea (in order for him to awake her with a kiss and love him forever), seems genuinely distressed that the woman whom he admired and now has as a wife is largely a blithering simpleton with no substance. Further plot and character development could only enhance the overall experience of this production, in the event it is ever remounted beyond this one weekend run. A few plot points were minorly confusing (for example, what exactly happened at the end with Rose and the Wolf and the Woodsman is still not totally clear), but overall, writer and director Emily McClain’s vision is very clear, both in tone and trajectory.

Mandy Bean, as Bea, delights as the princess who is still sadly half-asleep and therefore permanently vacuous, and Sarah Carpenter as Rose (aka Red Riding Hood) easily inhabits the role of enamored rebel in her love affair with the Wolf. The cast as an ensemble holds the audience’s interest, despite a few opening-night bumbles and occasionally over-zealous energy. Particularly enjoyable are the three Bears in a wildly nontraditional take, with a fabulous drag queen Mama Bear, game boss Papa Bear in a pimp suit and a surprisingly multi-faceted Baby Bear, portrayed with endearing vulnerability by Jeremy Carter. 

For a light and all-too-quick detour through adult fairyland, you have only this weekend to catch Dark Horse Theatre’s production of Grimm in N.C. Stage’s Catalyst Series.

Grimm, presented by Dark Horse Theatre. Written and directed by Emily McClain. Tonight and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at http://www.ncstage.org. $12. Box office at 239-0263.

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