Most figures in literature feel like they’re missing something, but the heroes of Hans Christian Andersen’s fables really take the cake. Characters as diverse as the Little Mermaid, the Ugly Duckling, and Thumbelina all yearn for new bodies with the hope of finding love and acceptance. Fragmented identities – and those elusive missing pieces – continue to haunt and inspire us.
Andersen asks us to explore the question: Don’t we all hope to be complete someday? And so I believe he would have enjoyed sitting in on The Yellow Chair Theater Company’s warmhearted and unassuming adaptation of his stories this weekend.
The Connecticut group has taken on two Andersen stories – “The Steadfast Tin Soldier” and the lesser-known “The Girl Who Stepped On Bread” – turning them over in their hands and minds with methodical consideration. The result is a touching, understated pair of skits, clearly developed through some strong collaborative thinking and workshop-style experimentation.
The opening is a dance of sorts. From either side of the stage, the tin soldier and the ballerina (Dakota James Gardner and Caitlin Winiarski, exuding charm) awake and discover each other, moving with the starched, jointed rhythms of living toys. The physicality is original and committed, drawing us into the make-believe without a backward glance. Through small costume changes and the use of a few black box structures, Gardner and Winiarski continuously transform characters, clearly enjoying the chance to use a variety of voices, postures, and stylized movements.
Dylan Marron rounds out the ensemble for the second story, in which an evil-tempered young girl named Inger disappears through a puddle of mud and ends up in the underworld. This is an eerie and didactic morality tale – quite a change in tone from the bruised, wistful love story of the tin soldier – and the group takes it as a surprise opportunity to riff on legend-making. We see how Inger’s fate becomes the stuff of common knowledge in the modern era; she is referenced in flashes of beat poetry, Broadway showtunes, Sunday sermons, and even MTV’s show “Next.” It’s an entertaining bit of sketch comedy, successfully expanding the world of the story without robbing the original text of its validity.
Some lovely moments of transformation arise in All That Was Left of Them, as when a beer stein becomes a talking canary, and an open umbrella becomes the steering wheel of a ship. These moments of recycling and re-sculpting resonate nicely in a piece about incomplete souls.
In the final moments of “The Steadfast Tin Solider,” the hero and his ballerina melt together in the oven, assuming one solid mass. They take form by losing form, able to commune only when they have forsaken their individual shapes. In the end, a single hunk of metal is all that is left of them. And yet everything they’d ever been remains safely locked inside.
Finally complete in love. Hans would have been proud to see it.
All That Was Left Of Them
Written and adapted by Rachel Silverman, Randa Tawil, Dakota James Gardner, Dylan Marron, Samantha Pearlman, Emma Sherr-Ziarko, and Caitlin Winiarski.
Directed by Rachel Silverman and Randa Tawil.
Produced by The Yellow Chair Theater Company
Reviewed by Hunter Styles