The WanderLUSTers Present "ACHTUNG GRIMM!"
nytheatre.com review by Larry Kunofsky
July 5, 2006
In The WanderLUSTers Present "Achtung, Grimm!" at SoHo Think Tank's Ice Factory, a group of five actors and one demonic-looking accordion player reenact a couple of fairy tales for our amusement and fright. Theatre and fairy tales both work best when they make us jump out of our skin a little bit. Writer/director Renee Philippi helps evoke this feeling by letting the WanderLUSTers be our devious guide into Grimmsville.
The WanderLUSTers promise to "tell the Brothers Grimm a little differently." They shout/sing a song that rhymes "glee," "bee," and "flee," with "CANNIBALISM!" The problem, though, is that the build-up only brings a let-down. There is nothing all that much different here. It's fun, in parts, just not new.
The more familiar of the two tales, "Snow White," comes off as the lesser half of the show. In this version, there is a somewhat political message, which only helps to remind us that we've seen all this before. As we all know, Snow White gets in trouble with the Wicked Queen when the Mirror on the Queen's wall proves that Snow White is the fairest of them all. In this version, the Mirror seems to represent the media, who is infuriated when Snow White, unlike everybody else, pays no attention to him. And so the Queen (or the government) is convinced to remove Snow White as a dissenter for the sake of the people. There are some laughs along the way—the Mirror will remind you of American Idol's Simon Cowell, and the Seven Dwarfs are played by wooden statues which weep on command. But the quasi-satire withers rather than electrifies.
"The Juniper Tree," however, is wonderfully illuminated through this production. Shortly after giving birth to the boy she had longed for, a woman dies and transforms into a Juniper Tree. Her widower remarries, but after a daughter is born, the new wife quickly becomes the Wicked Stepmother to the poor Boy. She chops off his head when his father's away. As with most of Grimm, there is much here that is truly grim. The Wicked Stepdaughter turns the dead Boy into stew, which she feeds to the father upon his return. But the daughter spreads the Boy's bones by the Juniper Tree and his mother's spirit turns him into a bird. There is a sad and lovely song and dance, recapturing the feelings of loss and rebirth that are pervasive throughout mythology.
The show gets better as it moves along, though a good deal falls flat throughout. Since the show is fairly brief, the two tales both get short shrift. The WanderLUSTers try to overcompensate for this abruptness by treating it as part of their act, but it still feels unsatisfying.
Still, the cast keep things fast and entertaining: Michael Tomlinson plays a very funny Mirror; Sandra Parris does a good balancing act between her portrayal of the Queen in the first story and the Mother in the second; Vera Beren has spunk throughout and is a delightfully bitchy Stepmother. The standout of the production, though, is Mi Sun Choi, who gives hypnotic performances as Snow White and the Boy.
When we think back on an evening of theatre, much like when we try to recall a bedtime story from childhood, we think less of the whole than of the little moments that made the hairs on our neck rise. Although the whole evening is a little inconsistent, The WanderLUSTers provides plenty of moments like that for us in this ultimately winning show.