Entertainment » Theatre

The Secret in the Wings

by Harker Jones
Monday Nov 20, 2017
The Secret in the Wings

Mary Zimmerman is best known for her adaptation of Ovid's "Metamorphoses," for which she won a Tony for Best Direction, but she has also adapted a musical version of the Disney classic "The Jungle Book" in addition to operas and Shakespeare. All that experience reimagining works for the stage is why even one of her lesser-known works is a fantastic, if underrated, work of art.

In "The Secret In the Wings," Zimmerman, who has also been honored with a MacArthur Fellowship and 10 (!) Joseph Jefferson Awards, compiles a handful of obscure fairy tales -- "The Princess Who Wouldn't Laugh," "Three Blind Queens," "Silent For Seven Years" and "Allerleirah" -- and strips them down to their basest, darkest, most disturbing underpinnings, surrounding them with a "Beauty and the Beast" framing story.

This isn't glossy fantasy like other stage versions based on an amalgamation of fables like Stephen Sondheim's (marvelous) "Into the Woods." "The Secret In the Wings" lays bare what has always lain at the heart of all folktales: The world is big and scary, and you will probably die a horrible death (or worse, live a cursed and miserable life).

The result under Joseph V. Calarco's direction is poetic, terrifying and deeply sad. The scenic design by J.R. Bruce and the costume and mask design by Kumie Asai are appropriately vintage and rundown. These are poor people living in some medieval European village who are thrust into fantastical experiences, and the set and wardrobe reflect that perfectly.

Each member of the ensemble of nine stands out in his or her own way (none are credited as a specific character, just as "Ensemble"). Emmy nominee (for "The Long Road Home") Leon Russom, Katie Pelensky, Eddie Vona and Leslie Murphy, in particular, shine, while every performer gets to flex their muscles whether their material is comedic, dramatic, poetic or even balletic.

It's a one-act show (which runs an hour and 45 minutes) that is oddly emotional by the end. The cumulative sadness sneaks up on you, and it lingers. It's hard to shake and even harder to pinpoint just why it's so heavy. That's a good thing. So many shows, even when they're enjoyable, are entirely forgettable a day or two later. The mournfulness of "The Secret In Their Wings" will haunt you.

Keep in mind that while there are some folkloric songs (some positively dirgelike) and a lot of levity, there is also discomfiting imagery -- gas masks, for one -- and the themes are unnerving -- grief, incest, and cannibalistic infanticide, for three. Just because "The Secret in the Wings" involves fairy tales doesn't mean it's for children. There are moments that are nightmarish and could frighten children. Young teens would likely be mature enough to understand the show, though.

Additionally, the Coeurage Theatre Company is a pay-what-you-want troupe, so admission can be as affordable as you like. "The Secret In the Wings" is worth every penny.

"The Secret In the Wings" runs through December 16 at the Lankershim Arts Center, 5108 Lankershim Boulevard, North Hollywood, CA 91601. For tickets or information, call 323-944-2165 or visit Coeurage.org


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