Watching the actors in Jobsite Theater's production of Grimm's Faery Tales, it's hard not to notice that they're having a better time than we are. At least, they know what their purpose is for two hours: to entertain us, to make us laugh, to never let the energy behind the show flag. We in the audience don't have anywhere as much clarity. We'd like to have a good time, but for all the onstage effort, the show just isn't that funny.
There's also not much opportunity to think about the importance of fairy tales — a la Bruno Bettelheim in The Uses of Enchantment — and the show's occasionally serious notes are usually swallowed up within seconds by the general silliness. Finally, we have to admit that, while the Jobsite writers have been much influenced by Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor of the Reduced Shakespeare Company, they just don't have the same perceptiveness of Tichenor and Reed in comedies like The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) and The Complete History of America (abridged).
This is all the more ironic, since it was the folks at Jobsite who brought us these two comedies, in memorable, successful productions some years ago. After immersion in the zany world of Tichenor and Reed, it must have seemed pretty simple to create a success on the same model. But as it turns out, it's not at all easy. Grimm's Faery Tales is, too much of the time, tedious.
The play, written by Neil Gobioff, Katrina Stevenson and the ensemble, is conceived as a series of sketches illustrating many of the most famous tales that we all heard as children. There's Rapunzel, Snow White, Hansel and Gretel, The Frog King, Little Red Riding Hood and more than 10 others, some developed over many minutes, some briefly referenced on the way elsewhere. The general strategy seems to be to update the stories with colloquial language and wacky costumes, to find what's ridiculous about them, what's sexual or at least suggestive, and to deliver the result with as much horseplay as possible.
Sometimes it works, as when Jason Vaughan Evans thinks he's supposed to be playing Hamlet and Gretel and then Han Solo and Gretel. But more often the sketches don't seem to have a point, as in the retelling of Rapunzel, when the silliest assertion seems to be that the maiden is named after a type of lettuce, or in the Brementown Musicians segment, when all five "musicians" pull the strings on their toys to create a cacophony of animal sounds. If this is as much insight as the play has on its subject, it's no wonder that after about a half-hour or so, we begin to lose hope for a satisfying experience.
Other problematic moments: a trivial discussion about the spellings "fairy" and "faery;" a recorded scream that sounds every time someone says the name "Wilhelm;" a contest in which the audience is asked to determine which tales are Grimm's and which are not; the so-called "Dachau Games" — "to remind us of brotherly love;" a horny Gretel finally finding sex with Little Bo Peep; a King who bets his kingdom on the Indianapolis Colts; and a closing section in which each of the actors tells us quickly what he or she learned while working on the play.
Meanwhile, the high points are few and far between, with the most interesting being Red Riding Hood's feminist tirade about the patriarchal assumptions behind the fairy tales.
The actors — Summer Bohnenkamp-Jenkins, Evans, Kari Goetz, David Jenkins, Shawn Paonessa and Roz Potenza — all work at highest energy and damn the torpedoes. The direction, by Katrina Stevenson and Goetz, emphasizes the look of spontaneity and the feel of improvisation (another similarity with the Reduced Shakespeare Company model). Brian Smallheer's set isn't very interesting — a bare stage flanked by castle towers — but Stevenson's costumes are occasionally very witty: I especially liked Evans' green goggles when he was a stunt Frog King. As I mentioned earlier, sexuality figures significantly throughout the evening, so I wouldn't bring the kids to this particular group of fairy tales.
And I wouldn't take the failure of Grimm's Faery Tales too much to heart. Watching the show, I was reminded that these five actors — plus director Stevenson and Chris Holcom and a few others — are now staples on the Bay area theater scene, and are responsible for many of Jobsite's finest moments over the years, from Cloud 9 to the (abridged) shows. If comedy-by-committee didn't work in this case, there's still a fine group of performers here, as intrepid and impertinent as are all the best comedians. There's not a chance that they'll let one lackluster experience slow them down.
This frog turned into a prince some seasons ago, and there's no need to worry that it's about to turn back again.
Adrift in the Multiverse. Yasmina Reza is the author of Art, an international hit that I found, in Tampa and Sarasota productions, to be vastly overrated. But now one of her later comedies — Life X 3 — is playing at Sarasota's Banyan Theatre, and it's so intelligent and entertaining, I recommend you make the drive down I-75. What Reza does in this play is show us the same comically unfortunate dinner party in three variations — possibly in three parallel universes. But it's not this nod to astrophysical string theory that makes the play attractive, it's the old-fashioned fun of putting incompatible characters together in awkward circumstances, and letting everyone get drunk. When a self-doubting research astronomer (Eric Hissom), his tough, uncompromising wife (Heather Corwin), his self-important, condescending supervisor (Douglas Clarke) and that supervisor's frowsy spouse (Geraldine Librandi) all have a little too much wine, the results are scandalous and hilarious and nothing short of delectable. Scientific pretensions or no, this is wonderfully good drawing room comedy. If you love good writing — and acting — you'll want to see it before its short run is over.