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Reviews

Swedish Tales of Woe

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Reviewed by Lucy Komisar

Presented by the Undermain Theatre at the Ohio Theatre, 66 Wooster St., NYC, Dec. 13-23.

Folk tales and puppets, masks, silhouettes, synthesizer music, ethereal dance—the aesthetic often works. The best parts of the Undermain Theatre's staging of two Swedish folk tales are a fox (Newton Pittman with a puppet head) that moves eerily animal-like, a giant (Nick Brisco) in silhouette behind a screen, and actors projected as shadow puppets climbing a hill.

But mostly, this theatre piece—written by Erik Ehn and directed by Bruce DuBose—is a grab bag of gimmicks and arty devices that don't hold together, creating incoherence, not understanding. The elements are supposed to be symbolic, but they're not connected with enough of a spoken narrative to help the audience—especially one unfamiliar with the stories—figure out what is happening.

In the first piece, a mother (Julie Plumettaz) banishes her son (Cameron Cobb) to the barnyard roof because she keeps tripping over him. He runs away and finds a giant who reminds him of a dead lover. A projected watercolor face, punctuated by a real tongue sticking through it, wants the giant killed. The boy pokes out the fox's eyes. His mother gets twisted in a pulley hanging from the barn. You see isolated events, but don't understand the connection.

In the second piece, with DuBose's evocative guitar music, a poor gypsy prince (Pittman) needs money to persuade his lover (Marina Celander) to marry him. Episodes are introduced by titles such as, "I'm rich now." His lover shoots him, because that will bring money. You're not sure why. The sun (James Garver, gold-painted face surrounded by a sunburst) and the moon (Cobb, silver face surrounded by crescent moon), chase each other. The prince yells at a scythe wearing a plaid shirt. Most of the action is ponderous walking or darting around, with a few lines of desultory dialogue.

Designers Happy Yancey and Valerie Moore do a nice job with the costumes, including a glittery number for Plumettaz, the only actor whose movements resemble dance.

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