Dallas Theater Center's walking fairytale tangles itself up in too many mediums
A new walking fairytale called Something Grim(m) has landed at Dallas Theater Center, and like most fables, it reminds you to be careful what you wish for.
That applies to both the story and the experience. We're all anxious for performances to start back up, and while DTC has developed an innovative way to present a piece of multimedia theater, it doesn't always satisfy.
But it does add "walk-through" to the list of safe workarounds for experiencing theater. Small groups of masked audience members depart every 20 minutes from the Lexus Silver parking garage underneath the Wyly Theatre, listening to the Narrator (Sally Nystuen Vahle) spin the tale of a Gardener and his Maid and their desperate wish for a child.
They visit a magic Wishing Well and are blessed with a child, but the well also prophesizes that their offspring will have the ability to grant wishes. A Farmer overhears, and rushes to tell his friend the Cook.
Through voiceovers and a giant comic strip, we see the Child begin to grow up and then transform their parents into the King and Queen. Then the tour begins, heading through a haze-filled hallway into the Wyly's courtyard, where videos (filmed against green screens that, happily, don't look cheesy or disjointed) project the next part of the story from large screens inside the theater's lobby.
The jealous Farmer (Blake Hackler) is irritated that his old friends are now stuffy royals who aren't sharing their wealth with him, so he decides to play a prank. He steals their child and makes it look as though the Queen (Tiana Kay Blair) murdered it, prompting the King (Alex Organ) to banish her to a tower to die.
Instead of giving the Child back when the "joke" is over, the Farmer keeps the magic babe and threatens the Cook (Molly Searcy) to never reveal what they did.
From there, you take a quick jaunt around the Wyly's exterior with more videos, some pop-up storybook illustrations, and even an interactive graveyard to continue the tale. There are no live performers, nor guides other than signs and arrows pointing the way.
Though the experience is a short 40 minutes, it's entirely outside so be prepared for chilly and windy weather. There are also several tripping hazards that are difficult to see in the dark (though the show's staff was seen hastily adding reflective tape to the ground after one in our group took a tumble).
Devised by the DTC's resident acting troupe — Liz Mikel, Christopher Llewyn Ramirez, Tiffany Solano, and Blair, Organ, Hackler, Searcy, and Vahle — Something Grim(m) is ultimately an engaging story that's unevenly presented.
Some aspects, like the hand-painted characters that wind up the Wyly's zig-zagging front ramp, are utterly enchanting. The sound, by Kyle Jensen, is also excellent and can be heard despite the downtown traffic and airplanes crossing overhead. And the actors look phenomenal throughout, thanks to Michael Heath Waid's romantic costumes.
But other aspects feel rushed or only half-thought through. There were several spots when our group was unsure of when and where to travel next. DTC provides a large printed map but it's a) unwieldy to consult, especially when it's windy, and b) confusing if you're not already familiar with the Wyly's layout.
Audiences are also encouraged to download the new Dallas Theater Center app for "additional info," but that too is awkward to pause and scan through during the show. Simply letting this charming fairytale be told instead of tangling it up in too many mediums might be my greatest wish.
Dallas Theater Center's Something Grim(m)runs at the Wyly Theatre through April 4.