nytheatre.com review by Melanie Lee
August 15, 2006
Ah, what a fractured fairy tale is Grace Falls! A mélange of styles of music, dance, and drama, directed by Ryan J. Davis, the show has a wonderful payoff, but the journey is erratic—at times exhilarating, and at times exasperating, yet with plenty of laugh-out-loud moments. This is one weird show, and it's not for the impatient.
A young Narrator (Joseph Yeargain) sings and tells the story of three young refugees fleeing through the woods from their destroyed village, the enemy in pursuit. Baltazar (Chad Lindsey), according to village tradition, is a "Szkolar" and therefore protector and commander of his two Terran companions, Orfeo (Nicole DiGaetano), and her mute younger sister Azariah (Amy Liszka). They have lost touch with their friend Grace, who had fled with them three days before. Baltazar wants to keep moving: "Here's the plan: we run!" Orfeo insists on stopping to observe traditions such as leaving a mourning trail (not smart if you're fleeing someone!). She forces her sister to carry two colorful patchwork bags with mysterious contents. "Watch your mouth and you'll be forgiven," she tells the Szkolar.
In the woods the trio meet an elfin character in Peter Pan garb who calls himself Demanon (Andrew Keenan-Bolger). He says he's the slave of Cassius the Red Giant (Brian Kuchta), who lives in the Sanctuary. Whether to seek protection, to carry out their traditions, or to confront the Giant, the trio, escorted by Demanon, enter the Sanctuary. Cassius, who speaks in complicated tangents like Jeremy the Boob in The Yellow Submarine, wants to destroy the villagers because, in the Narrator's words, "He is mighty and they are different." But whose side is Demanon on? And where is Grace?
The brilliant choreography by Linda Madueme is well-danced, especially by Liszka, who attractively conveys the waif like, resilient character of Azariah. Keenan-Bolger has a lovely, shining onstage presence, and performs his role excellently. Lindsey dances well and sings pretty well. DiGaetano acts pretty well, but I found her singing emotionally bland. Kuchta is funny and scary as the Giant. Yeargain narrates the story well in prose and song. Irma Escobar's colorful costumes enhance the show.
Daeli Cha, writer, composer, and lyricist, needs some help in the word department. The bouncy instrumental music, which sounds at times like "Asian jazz," complements the story and choreography. The lyrics serve the Narrator's songs, but fall short with Orfeo's and Baltazar's duets, with their near-rhymes and pedestrian words. Maybe only the Narrator should sing—a play/ballet with music—and let the others speak and dance. The dance tells the story better than some of the songs do.
At times Grace Falls is frustrating as we wait for the onion layers to peel. Wordplays, opposite meanings, and M. Night Shyamalan-type secrets abound here, as well as Biblical flavorings reminiscent of Passover and Easter, and sprinklings of Alice in Wonderland, Into the Woods, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and the Narnia tales.
Something needs to ground this ethereal script without giving too much away—a solid thread to guide us through the mélange. With some much-needed fixing, Grace Falls can be a wonderful, memorable show. I've been thinking more about this show than any other Fringe show I've seen so far this year.