The fairytale unfolds at Berkeley Repertory Theatre until February 17.
The show features a killer soundscape. The ever-present band with core musicians Damon Daunno and Ian Ross balances being fabulous yet non-intrusive while rocking (or blues-ing) out to Stu Barker’s compositions. Carl Gross’s writing creates both full-on silliness and many moments of what I call “horraughter,”which is an acute involuntarily sound—somewhere between gasp and guffaw—that escapes when one sees or hears something horrible that is also, somehow, hilarious.
Audrey Brisson as The Girl harbors more than the allotted amount of spectacular per square inch. Her from-the-toes-and-gut vocal delivery of “The Crossroads”; her chilling embodiment of The Girl’s anquish; and her deft support, in her turn, of the other performers seem central to the success of the production. She is (fortunately? unfortunately?) so convincing as a young girl that the audience gasps with shock and discomfort when the devil holds her tiny body like a guitar and strums her pelvis.
Patrycja Kujawska as The Wild displays a “How is that even possible?” level of talent and is responsible for a remarkably heartrending moment when she displays her skill as a violinist just before the ability to play is taken from her. Even as one forcefully rejects the fairytale’s depiction of physical disability as loss of virtue, the moment emerges as a poignant rendering of potential being abruptly and violently stunted. As The Wild, Kujawska’s wolf-cub playfulness is endearing and her every movement is so precise and skilful that I observed many audience members nodding in appreciation of the magic she made by, say, standing up after being seated.
Etta Murfitt’s Woman is a force, but it is Murfitt’s choreography that creates the most deliciously haunting images: the visual fugue of girls dancing while the conversation between Father and Devil thunders on; The Woman’s tripartite "community of self" slow-dancing with the prince; and the repetitive, cycling, debilitating “fallback” dance of war. There is just enough “too much”in the movements Murfitt designs.
Stuart Godwin’s Prince leaps joyfully into hearts and other loving openings as he portrays a man navigating through a lifetime of love-- from the unabashed goofiness of new love to the challenge of loving when half the bright is gone. As The Father, Godwin moves seamlessly into improvisation that delights the participating audience.
Andrew Durand’s Devil somehow reminded me of the following: Humbert Humbert from Nobokov’s Lolita; Robert Westenberg’s wolf from Into the Woods; and--from Glee, forgive me --Kurt Hummel’s smile. In order to make fun of gospel singers’ vocal embellishments during the The Devil's churchy-sounding moments, Durand deploys his own solid singing voice as a weapon. He does not fail to entertain. Durand’s devil reads as more playful and demanding than seductive and is immensely likeable when he isn’t being abominable.
Emma Rice's direction enables The Wild Bride’s tumble of movements and sets to read as “hot damn” instead of “hot mess." This play is a stunning testament to the magic of theater. Where else can you explore what good can come of a leafless ladder tree, a mirror, two chairs, a disco ball, a broom, an oversized portrait, a few buckets of fire, a thumping good cluster of musicians, a small group of talented actors, a spot-on technical staff, and a grove of royal lightbulb pears?