I have to say I love it when a playwright takes a genre and turns it on its head. Even more so when they have an amazing gift for words and storytelling as is very evident in Stephanie Timm's "Sweet Nothing, a (grim) fairytale" currently having its Northwest premiere at Annex Theatre from Macha Monkey Productions. With the sweetness of a fairly tale combined with the stark coldness of reality, Timm manages a haunting sensuality wrapped up in a thoroughly engaging story of lost innocence.
Set in an impoverished fairytale-esque land, we open with three young sisters as the youngest, Violet (Samantha Leeds), is being sent off to her marriage to a man across the sea in order to escape their desolate life. Thinking her sister has found the secret to happiness, the next youngest, Lily (Libby Barnard), yearns for a marriage of her own. So when a seemingly helpless wolf (Jason Sharp) comes along and promises to show her wonderful things, she gleefully follows much to the chagrin of her older sister Iris (Monica Finney) who enlists the aid of a young Woodsboy (Quinn Armstrong) to save her sister. But as in real life, when things look too good to be true, often times they are.
Director Laurel Pilar Garcia has taken Timm's already brilliant script and accented it with a kind of creepy naiveté shrouding its underlying commentary on modern society in a veneer of fables. By doing so she manages to keep the ickiness of the situation just out of arms reach allowing us to get lost in the dream without getting out hands dirty. But beyond that she has assembled a killer cast and crew that have the tone of the fantastical world down perfect.
Leeds, Barnard and Finney as the three sisters turn in beautiful performances of three very different young girls and while showing their growth over the play never lose their initial girlish states. Finney with her grounded and jaded perspective, Barnard with her ever reaching drive and Leeds with her almost dangerous innocence with heart aching results. Sharp gives a deliciously nasty performance as the crippled wolf and takes him beyond the snarling beast and into an almost anti-hero. I've seen Sharp in quite a few wonderful performances over the years and this is one of the best he's ever done. And Armstrong while not having much to say all night long still communicated loads with his expressions and gestures. Not an easy task in a difficult and potentially overlooked role.
Kelsey McCornack's gorgeously dirty costumes and Montana Tippett's beautifully creepy set kept the tone of the world flawlessly. Add into that some truly eerie lighting design from Danny Fisher-Bruns and sound design from Joseph Swartz and there really wasn't an aspect of this production that didn't appeal to me. From the outstanding script by Timm and direction by Garcia to the stunning cast to the gorgeously designed show make this one an absolute winner! I will admit I was looking forward to this one mostly due to it having been written by one of my favorite local playwrights but having seen it I can now recommend it based on so much more. It's really a glorious sum of all its wonderful parts and shows what fringe theater can really do.
"Sweet Nothing, a (grim) fairytale" performs at Annex Theatre through June 23rd. For tickets or information visit them online at www.machamonkey.org or www.annextheatre.org.
Photo credit: Ann Van Haney