Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Firebone Theater's "Long Long Ago In A Land of Giants, Jewels & Jolly Fools" (Not Your Usual Holiday Tales)

First of all, isn't the poster stunning?! Though I don't see any sign of LRRH being included in the presented tales - unless we're following her through a Manhattan version of the woods from tale to tale - it still does a perfect job of showing fairy tales in a modern context. Bravo to whomever created the concept and shot it!

Second: the title - just wonderful, and perfect for fairy tales without the usual "once upon a time " or "enchanting 'something'"... It sets the feel of storytelling beautifully and it makes me want to sit down by a fireside and listen to the rest.

Third, do I detect a mini-revival of interest in lesser known tales? Firebone Theater is presenting musical adaptations of three lesser known fairy tales from three well-known fairy tale writers: Wilde, Grimm and Perrault (OK, technically that's four, but you get the idea).

Here are some excerpts from the press release. I put the main information in bold so you can read it among the credits and alum information, which essentially tells you this production has some serious talent behind it:
Firebone Theatre presents three new plays drawn from the forgotten fairy tales by Oscar Wilde, The Grimm Brothers, and Charles Perrault. This event promises music, laughter, and homespun goodies including milk, cookies, wine, and beer. 
Long, Long Ago features a musical adaptation of Oscar Wilde's The Selfish Giant by Chris Cragin-Day (The Public EWG Alumna, O'Neill Theater Center Alumna) and Michael Castillejos directed by Jaki Bradley (What Every Girl Should Know--FringeNYC Time Out New York Critic's Pick, Lincoln Center Director's Lab, SDC Fellow); an adaptation of Charles Perrault's The Fairies by Pia Wilson (LMCC's Workspace program, The Public EWG Alumna) directed by Jor Dana Williams (THE PARTICULARS by Matthew MacKenzie FringeNYC 2012), and an adaptation of The Grimm Brothers' Hans Dumm by Christin Siems (Morbin Poetry- Incubator Arts Project NYC) directed by Amelia Peterson (Incubator Arts Project, Kennedy Center Page to Stage).

About Long, Long Ago  

This short musical adaptation of Oscar Wilde's The Selfish Giant... tells the story of three children who sneak into the Giant's garden every day after school while the mysterious Giant is away. When the Giant returns to find the children playing in his garden, he explodes in anger and chases them out. He then builds a wall around his castle so that no children will ever get in again. Winter punishes him for his selfishness, refusing to relent even when the rest of the village blooms into spring. Then one day, a special child melts the giant's heart and the garden together, changing both he and the village children forever. 
Hans Dumm... is one of the first collected Grimm Brothers fairy tales. A haughty princess, a rancorous king, and a village idiot tell the story of a good wish gone wrong, when a sudden and unexpected pregnancy turns the kingdom upside down. Sentenced without a trial, the princess and her dimwitted companion travel a long, difficult road of seemingly irreconcilable differences to finally live happily ever after…that is, until her father, the king, accidentally barges in on their wedded bliss. In this adaptation of the tale, Hans Dumm isn’t the only fool and each character must be humbled before they can give and accept forgiveness. 
The Fairies... tells the story of a beautiful, gentle young woman named Izzy. She is practically a servant in her own home. Her mother and sister make her do all the chores around the house and fetch water from a nearby stream. When Izzy makes a trip to the stream, she encounters what she thinks is an old woman. In reality, the old woman is a fairy who bestows a gift of jewels onto Izzy for her kindness. When Izzy's mother learns of the Fairy's gift to Izzy, she instructs her other daughter, Grumpina to go to the stream and treat the old woman kindly to receive the same gift as her sister. Grumpina unhappily goes to the stream where she meets the fairy in disguise. This encounter doesn't go as well for Grumpina as it does for Izzy. The girls' mother blames Izzy for Grumpina's misfortune. Izzy runs away into a nearby forrest. It is there she meets her true love – a prince who can see her worth at first sight, and they lived happily ever after.
I'm really intrigued by The Fairies in particular. More popular variants include Diamonds & Toads and are one of my favorites in retellings these days. Perhaps because I'm always thinking about all those reptiles and how weird it would be for them to suddenly be exiting someone's mouth, over tongue, between teeth... Or perhaps it's because I have a budding herpetologist in the house who always wants to make sure the reptiles in any story get a happy ending.

Hans Dumm - or Hans Dumb - is a tale I haven't heard for quite a while. I remember hearing variants of this regularly when I was young (perhaps because it shares motifs with the Bible story in which Joseph hides a goblet in his brothers pack n order to detain him), where a King visits his daughter unknowingly and she hides something valuable in his garments or belongings just so she can go through the pretense of accusing him and bringing him back, until a satisfactory answer to her question is given, and her father understands how wrong he was in his assumptions (about her) long ago. It's a tale that only appeared in the first edition of Household Tales, though I have no idea why.

The show is family-friendly musical triptych (of sorts) and though it's unlikely we'll hear what the show is like (unless one of our readers goes along and reports back), I think it's an interesting idea and a curious trio of tales to tell together, especially for the holiday season, though The Selfish Giant (whose garden remains in Winter until the Giant changes his ways) fits nicely. It certainly should make an impression on kids: Exploding flowers! Frog vomit! Princess tricks her Dad!

I kinda want to go see it now. :D

Fairy tale bonus of the day:
Interview with The Selfish Giant script writer Chris Cragin-Day
Spoiler alert: Wilde makes the children fall in love with the giant and then Wilde kills him. At our first read through, this made some people in the room uncomfortable. “Do we really want children thinking about death at Christmas time?” they gently questioned. Here’s what the fairy tale gets–children know. They know about death, instinctively, by about age three. They want to talk about it frankly. They want to know if they should be afraid. Wilde says they shouldn’t. He sends a boy to welcome the giant into death with wide open arms. And, as in all fairy tales, love conquers death. It doesn’t eliminate death–it is victorious over it. 
The childhood universe is inherently mythological. When I tap into that, I can write for children with as much writer’s integrity as I write for a sophisticated audience as that of The Public. The challenge of writing for children is that you can’t cover up half truths with intellectual banter or pop culture references.  Children’s eyes and ears cut through that much more sharply than our own. Children demand truth and honesty, and if you don’t deliver, they’ll call you on it. Wilde knew that. (Yet another reason to love him.)
You can read the whole of Chris' article on writing the script - and her journey on learning to love writing for children - HERE. (It's lovely - I recommend it.)

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