Play explores fairy tales, psychology

March 9, 2015

Eleanor Skelton
[email protected]

5/5 stars

Step through storybook pages, sit in a fairy tale, listen to the scholar tell how he met the princess, the watchmen and the shadow.

“The Shadow” blurs the lines between reality and fantasy. The production, directed by Kevin Landis, runs March 5-15 at Theatreworks’ Dusty Loo Bon Vivant Theater.

Evgeny Shvarts, a playwright known for contemporary reality plays based on Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales, wrote “Shadow” in 1940.

The combination of set design, cast and special effects yields an experience that unfolds as one of Theatreworks’ most immersive productions.

Theater instructors acting in lead roles with their students added cohesion to the performance rarely equaled.

Most of the comedic relief within a tale containing dark themes came from students performing as valets or courtiers with instructors such as Tom Paradise (the Prime Minister) and Bob Rais (the Minister of Finance).

The trust built between students and their instructors to deliver the energy and dynamism to the humorous scenes created a unique experience. The whole cast was energized and their deliveries felt spontaneous, not rehearsed. The Major Domo (Erik Brevik) was especially vibrant.

Audience members enter the set through giant pages of a fairy tale book wrapped around the entrance door. Balconies and doors juxtaposed at various levels throughout the two-story set, a mass of old books covering a wall from floor to ceiling and overlaid vines and foliage create whimsical mystery.

Orchestral music blends into the opening monologue of the scholar in an upper room of the inn, the room he says Hans Christian Andersen used to live in.

The scholar explains by flickering candlelight that he is not wearing his glasses. In the twilight, the blanket draped over the armchair seems like a princess he is madly in love with, and the clock is her main watchman.

The scholar’s own shadow becomes animate, and declares he is the rival lover of the princess.

All three disappear in daylight and when the innkeeper’s daughter appears, causing the audience to question if all the fairy tale characters exist only in the scholar’s mind. The entrances and exits through all of the carved wood doors around the set add immediacy and urgency to the dreamlike, vivid qualities of the performance.

The fantasy and reality dichotomy continues to be shown as the plot progresses.

The innkeeper’s daughter Annunziata (Autumn Silvas) tells the scholar that fairy tales are real and that the people just integrated into the society. Sleeping Beauty is a neighbor, and the ogre from the story became a pawn shop appraiser.

But Annunziata is afraid to tell the scholar what was in the secret letter the princess received from her father, because “we’re afraid this is a new fairy tale that will end badly.”

More foreshadowing and uncanny lighting add to the suspense and darker undertones.

Before intermission, the audience recognizes that the scholar giving the Shadow agency allows the manipulative nature of the narcissistic creature to surface. The village physician suggests that the scholar regain control of the Shadow by telling it to “know your place.”

Theaterworks’ production of “The Shadow” is like multiple fairy tales blended with an “Alice in Wonderland” style delivery. It uses humor, archetypes and darker undertones to play on the perceptions that will resonate universally with audiences.