Adapted by Jack Herholdt based on stories by The Brothers Grimm;
Off Off Broadway, Play
Runs through 26 August 2016
The Kraine Theater, 85 East 4th Street NYC
Review by Sarah Weber
BOTTOM LINE: A beautifully dark presentation of six Brothers Grimm tales you’ve probably never heard of.
Some of our most famous fairy tales were first made popular by Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm and their renowned collection Children’s and Household Tales. Stories such as “Cinderella,” “The Frog Prince,” “Hansel and Gretel,” “Rapunzel,” and “Snow White” are now necessary staples of childhood. But during their lifetimes the Grimm brothers published over 200 stories; what other fantastical characters are we missing out on? Jack Herholdt addresses this question with his adaptation of six lesser-known Brothers Grimm tales in his darkly charming Little Stories.
Before the curtains open, Herholdt greets the audience as The Clown, setting the mood and expectations for the down-to-earth dark comedy we’re about to see. After playing amongst the audience, he then invites a few folks on stage to play a game that opens Little Stories. From then on The Clown shifts between interacting with the audience and with the five Players: Gretchie Argetsinger, Garrett Burreson, Summer Dawn Hortillosa, Mickey Pantano, and Mark Woodard.
Evoking the style of a band of traveling players, each actor leaps from character to character with costumes, props, and set pieces made of tchotchkes one might find left on a street corner. For example, in the first story, “The Fisherman and His Wife,” the Players use a blue-ish patchwork quilt to represent water, with a simple flap in the middle where the Magical Talking Flounder pokes out its head to speak with the Fisherman. These simple yet captivating effects shape the rest of the evening’s stories, including “Mother Holle,” “The Stolen Pennies,” “King Thrushbeard,” “How Some Children Played at Slaughtering,” and “The Bird Phoenix.”
The premise of Little Stories is simple, but the execution is absolutely delightful. All of the performers pour so much energy and enthusiasm into the production that the effect is often mesmerizing. And Michael Heitzler’s direction expertly uses this talented cast to create a seamless production. Often, shows made up of multiple short stories have terribly clunky transitions from one piece to the next, abruptly tearing the audience away from the production. Heitzler, however, keeps the audience engaged. Transitions maintain the show’s ragtag aura, and The Clown is always doing something to keep the audience entertained (or distracted) while the Players set up the next story.
I must also give a round of applause to the design crew—Jennifer A. Jacobs for costumes, Jan Leslie Harding for puppetry, and Scott Connor for scenery. The work of all three build the world of Little Stories as much as the actors. The beautiful yet ragged appearance of the design affirms that, yes, these are fairy tales, but these stories are also firmly rooted in both the good and the ugly of the human condition.
Whether or not you’re a fan of all things Brothers Grimm, you should definitely check out Little Stories. Herholdt has managed to collect six little-known stories that fire up the imagination as much as (if not more than) the famous classics we hold so dear.
(Little Stories plays at VENUE #9: The Kraine Theater, 85 East 4th Street, through August 26, 2016. The running time is 1 hour 30 minutes. Performances are Sat 8/13 at 5:30; Thu 8/18 at 7; Sun 8/21 at 4:45; Tue 8/23 at 4:45; and Fri 8/26 at 5:45. There is no late seating at FringeNYC. Tickets are $18 and are available at fringenyc.org.)
Location: Venue #9: The Kraine Theater, 85 East 4th Street NYC