(photo courtesy : Melanie Pinzon)
Written by Daniella Litvak
Of all the plays I have had the privilege of reviewing this year, Secret in the Wings is by far the most unconventional. This quality is a double edged sword. On the one hand we are being treated to stunning visuals and some hysterical moments of black comedy. On the other it leads to muddled and repetitive storytelling. It is an interesting, unnerving theatrical experience.
Secret in the Wings begins with Heide (Ashley Shilts) whose parents have gone out for an evening and left her in the care of a neighbor —Mr. Fitzpatrick (Adam Ritter). The problem is Heide believes Mr. Fitzpatrick is a horrible ogre with a tail. In order to win her over Mr. Fitzpatrick tries reading some fairy tales to Heide, and the stories are brought to life on the stage.
The fairy tales being told are lesser known ones such as “Allerleira” and “Snake Leaves Princess.” Substantively these renditions hew closer to the older Grimm and Perrault versions. As a result the show features a lot of terrifying content: abuse, infanticide, incest, and mutilation to name a few. Each fairy tale is told in a different fashion. For instance “Snake Leaves Princess” is told through song, and then a subsequent story features a lengthy montage and pantomime.
At times there is some difficulty in figuring out what exactly is happening on stage. A large part of it is due to the structure of starting a story, pausing it to segue into a different story, and then coming back to it. Plus there are some weird stylistic choices. I’m still not sure why one of the stories had a 1920’s inspired setting. Also the audio and actors’ voices were not always clear, and the twist at the end, rather than clarifying things, ups the confusion level–this is on top of the twist itself being a cliché.
Visually the show excels. The set is well designed with a lot of nice details: black umbrellas, askew picture frames, and a rickety staircase. The lighting is effective at adding drama and tension. The instances of Shilts flinging a door open onto a darkened stage and being framed with smoke and light are incredibly striking. The ocean effects are beautifully choreographed. I enjoyed how all this added up to a lot of nice tableau moments throughout the show.
The cast’s energy and enthusiasm is fun to watch. Still, it is a shame that all of the parts in Secret in the Wings are broadly drawn archetypes rather than fully realized characters, as that limits the actors’ abilities to breathe life into their roles and make the audience care about their fates.
Secret in the Wings is interesting. It is experimental. It challenges the audience. It definitely reminds us of how creepy fairy tales truly are. However, and to its detriment, there is too much focus on structure and technique.
October 20-21, 26-27, 2017