Apparently desirous of illuminating the dark side of human nature, the playwrights of the rewarding "Fairy Tale"—all part of the New York–based theater collective the Shelter—offer five short plays inspired by familiar fairy tales. Yet with the exception of the only misfire on the bill, Jonathan Ashley's "Terror on Haxos 9," an abstruse sci-fi adventure set on a remote moon, the plays are all realistic, set in contemporary times and everyday places and involving ordinary people.
A well-observed takeoff on "Three Billy Goats Gruff," the most entertaining of the plays is Beth Jastroch's "3 Sisters and a Carnie," in which three trashy siblings work their pathetic wiles to manipulate a low-life carnival-ride operator into letting them into the fun house for free. Jastroch's writing is both comical and penetrating, and the performances—by Tania Verafield, Ginger Kearns, Aubrey Ball, and Edwin Sean Patterson—are excellent, as is the acting across the board in all five plays.
Melinda Smart gives a chilling performance in Meghan E. Jones' "Dinner for the Queen," a study of the grotesque lengths to which envy will drive even the most refined and well-bred among us. In the role of a well-heeled diner being served an elegant meal (mouth-wateringly described by the waiter's haute cuisine menu parodies), Smart lets every bit of her being grow ecstatic with sick pleasure—conveyed through her skillful calibration of small muscle movements and sensual impulses—as she gorges on what she believes are the entrails of the only woman in the land who is fairer than she is.
Michael Sean McGuinness and Rachel Cora give hauntingly nuanced performances in Michael Bernstein's "Kate," a sly play (sparked by the French fairy tale "Donkeyskin") about a father and daughter caught in the web of a potentially incestuous relationship. And Chris Cardona and Alec A. Head give gripping interpretation to Andy Hassell's "R.I.P. Captain Wendel," a mysterious story of an injured naval captain awaking from a 20-year coma.
Presented by the Shelter at the 45th Street Theatre, 354 W. 45th St., NYC. Dec. 4–11. Thu.–Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat. and Sun, 3 p.m. (212) 352-3101, (866) 811-4111, www.theatermania.com, or www.theshelternyc.org.