Once upon a time there was a wolfishly predatory music teacher, a little red-faced high school student, a put-upon receptionist named Gretel who liked gingerbread cupcakes, and a caterer who, Cinderella-like, just wanted his Prince Charming. They all lived in Washington, DC. You can see their stories in a play called Twisted. And you should.
Twisted is an interwoven theatrical collage of classic fairy tales, unDisneyfied and reset into a modern urban environment. It includes a number of them, all of them well-known, treated with varying degrees of attention: this one an elaborate narrative, that one a passing reference.
And indeed, this production has the elements that we loved in fairy tales as children. It has romance: Mike Wong plays the caterer, Ash, with effusive longing, and we want him to get what he desires, even if we know on some level that in this world, he might not. It has humor, as with the spot-on comic work of Stephen Notes and Jennifer Crooks, whose Little Red Riding Hood story manages dark humor without being obvious or moralizing. (Equally good chemistry percolates between Lisa Hill-Corley and Aaron Cunningham, who enact a Frog Prince narrative in increments throughout the performance.) And there’s mystery, manifested in a cryptic narrator/author figure who the play takes its time to explain. Jason McIntosh imbues this omnipresent character with credibly burning passion when he’s in focus, and blends into the landscape as a secondary character—and sometimes objects—when he isn’t.
The writing is sometimes witty, sometimes self-satisfied, sometimes downright beautiful. What makes this production an original is its ability to weave different theatrical techniques and styles into itself as seamlessly as the plot does its stories. From the introduction (a performance-art tinged riff on “once upon a time” which was a bit on-the-nose, but so what), we observe a sequence of scenes, monologues (the most colorful of which belongs to a comically imperious Ty Hallmark), musical interludes, pantomimes, and dance breaks, all of which work in varying degrees to advance the stories.
Both of the aforementioned weavings were quite well executed, but not seamless. Some of the musical and dance sequences were a little cluttered, and toed the line between committed and ironic.
Likewise, the narrative tapestry, for all its deft rapid-fire juggling of numerous plots and characters, lacked some clarity in its presentation, as it became difficult at times to tell which characters were which. But these moments were few.
There is room for improvement. But more than any of this, in my own opinion, it could use some fleshing out: Twisted would be well served by a lengthened script and a larger venue. And when your major criticism of a piece of theater is that it needs to be longer and better funded, that says something.
Twisted is not the first, second, or seventieth attempt to revivify and darken old fairy tales. But it does it in new and interesting ways, and that is a heck of an accomplishment.
[Note: I have worked with cast member Ty Hallmark before. This has not affected the objectivity of this review.]
Directed and conceived by Jennifer Crooks
With written contributions from Jennifer Crooks, Aaron Cunningham, Patrick Furie, Solomon HaileSelassie, Jason McIntosh, and Mike Wong
Produced by Eleventh Hour Ensemble
Reviewed by David Winkler
Running time: 60 minutes
Read all the reviews and check out the full Capital Fringe schedule here.
Did you see the show? What did you think?