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Secret brings surreal, creepy take on familiar tales to life for stage

By Brenna Williams | Friday, September 30, 2011

Tell your fairy godmother you’ll be late and leave Hansel and Gretel at home ⎯ the Department of Film, Television, and Theatre (FTT) is producing a play that puts the Grimm back in fairy tales.

Opening Friday, “The Secret in the Wings,” written by Mary Zimmerman and directed by FTT faculty member Siiri Scott, is sure to give audience members shivers while changing the way they look at children’s stories.

The show presents a group of obscure tales, all notable for their gruesome or unsettling plots. “Most people won’t recognize a lot of the stories,” sophomore cast member Katie Mullins said, “although Beauty and the Beast is one that runs throughout. It’s not the Disney version we all know, though.”

Each tale starts out like the fairy tales we’re used to, but they get dark very quickly.

In 70-minutes, you will see hints of incest, murder and cannibalism, among other disturbing events.

Nine actors in the ensemble cast play various roles in each of the stories.

“We’re basically on stage the whole time. If we’re not in the scene, we’re somewhere else adding to what is happening on stage,” freshman cast member Katherine Dudas said.

“Since we’re all in every scene, we had to come to every rehearsal,” senior cast member Kevin Barsaloux said.

That amount of time and preparation together has made the cast work together extremely well, helping them bring the non-traditional stories to life.

“The thing that has really impressed me about the way Siiri has directed this show is that there’s so much detail,” Dudas said.

Scott’s direction, with Assistant Director Carolyn Demanelis’s help, and their colorful choices have also added depth to the performance.

“The Secret in the Wings” is the type of event that Notre Dame doesn’t often see, senior cast member Kevin Argus said.

“The last show that was unrealistic like this was ‘Guernica’ a few years ago, and only seniors will remember that,” he said. “Everyone else is definitely in for something they haven’t seen here.”

Most audience members will not have heard of the play. It has only had limited performances in major cities, and its performance at Notre Dame offers students a chance to see the kind of theatre without having to drive to Chicago.

“This show is great because it definitely looks at fairy tales in a unique way,” cast member Jimmy Stein said. “It’s something you’ll be talking to your friends about afterward.”

The entire tone of the performance is something theatergoers don’t often encounter.

Several cast members described the play as “creepy,” and Scott instructed them to be “immense and intense,” characteristics that definitely shine through.

The technical design of the show only adds to the disturbing plot.The Philbin Studio Theatre in the DeBartalo Performing Arts Center has been transformed into an abstract world somewhere between a forest and an archeological dig, complete with enough spooky sound effects to make any haunted house jealous.  

The most notable part of the design is that it is in-the-round, a feature that the actors have enjoyed thoroughly.

“It really gives us an opportunity to interact with each other in a natural way while still being open to the audience,” Dudas said.

The in-the-round staging demands that something constantly be going on for everyone to see, so there isn’t a bad seat in the house.

The actors and crew are positioned in different off-stage areas of the theatre throughout the performance, surrounding the audience and overwhelming the senses from every direction.

“The Secret in the Wings” is certain to change the way you think about nursery rhymes, playing dress up, and bedtime stories. It will leave you questioning whether fairy tale characters can really have the “happily ever after” our parents always told us about. It’s the perfect event for the pre-Halloween season.

It runs tonight through October 9 in the Philbin Studio Theatre in the Debartalo Performing Arts Center.

Tickets are $7 with the new student ticket rate, $12 for seniors and $15 for the public. They can be purchased online at perfarts.nd.edu or at the DPAC box office.