The Drama Club is back doing what it does best: adapting existing stories into ghoulish new plays. This time last year it was the supremely creepy Faust, and now the Clubbers have returned with an evening of short plays inspired by folklore from around the globe.
Like most collections, Wild, Wicked, Wyrd: Fairytale Time is hit and miss. Pieces written by John M. Flores — who also provides the music and sound with Jim Kuenzer, under the moniker JimJohn Make Noise —bookend the production, and while the two plays have their moments, neither transcends its superficial premises.
Lighter Than Air introduces conjoined sea creatures (Marti Etheridge and Delaney Milbourn) who get waylaid by a smooth-talking pelican (Nicole Berastequi, in an ingenious costume designed by Korey Kent). There's very little tension here, as we are told repeatedly what the outcome will be if the pair follows the pelican "to meet God." The trio valiantly soldiers through, and Jeffrey Schmidt's direction digs out a few interesting moments. But mainly this quick opener allows more time in act one for the second and best play of the bunch.
Written by Michael Federico, Mother Holly draws on American folk music, Irish lullabies, and the Brothers Grimm for a morality tale that veers in unexpected directions. It's also scary as hell, thanks to costumes from Kent, lighting by Amanda West, and nightmarish vocal manipulation from Flores and Kuenzer.
Margo (Aubrey Ferguson) sings at her father's nightclub, but she's a pale imitation of her late mother, who used to pack 'em in. While out searching for food to feed her starving father and younger sister, Margo gets lost in the woods and stumbles across the Bread Man (played with eerie suaveness by Kia Nicole). He allows her to feast on him, then directs her to the home of Mother Holly (Berastequi, using body language to its full unnatural effect). The witch promises Margo success and wealth if she spends the next three weeks caring for her home and singing lullabies.
It would be enough if Federico and director Christie Vela stopped there, for there are several moments where you are absolutely sure something terrible is going to befall the trusting Margo. But the three weeks pass and she thanks Mother Holly for the opportunity, returning home to a boisterous club, an overflowing larder, a grateful father (Etheridge), and a jealous sister (Milbourn).
The twist that Federico inserts isn't particularly shocking, but the tautness of the production makes each moment feel like life or death for the characters. It's a horror film come to life, and the visage of Mother Holly might very well haunt your dreams.
Maryam Obaidullah Baig's exotic Jo Chaho Tum opens act two, and while there is some impressive shadow work performed by both humans and puppets, it's difficult to follow the story of forbidden love. The tale also doesn't connect well to the present-day characters, a sullen teenager (Milbourn) and her grandfather (Nicole), ending suddenly and without much resolution.
Flores' final work, Just Desserts, is deliberately cartoonish, pitting a rabbit against a bear as they vie for the gastronomical approval of a rare visitor (Nicole) at their neighboring restaurants. The animals quickly and grotesquely prove they will do anything to win the woman's approval, even dismembering and disemboweling themselves (behind illuminated screens, thankfully). The premise is amusing at first, mostly due to Milbourn and Etheridge's exaggerated characterizations, but quickly grows tiresome as the script runs in circles. Even a shocker ending can't rescue the carnage.
This quartet proves once again that the Drama Club is tops at creating a creepy atmosphere, but a few more revisions this time around would have been wildly appreciated.
The Drama Club's production of Wild, Wicked, Wyrd: Fairytale Time runs through October 29 at Bryant Hall.