The ominously titled "A Grimm Evening" with the Fabulous Monsters turns out to be anything but.
The troupe enlists a lively and eclectic cross-section of artistic media--from narrative and theater to music and visual composition--to transform the Highways performance space into a playground of the imagination. It does so by re-envisioning four lesser-known tales from the Brothers Grimm in a surreal adult context.
Conceived and directed by Robert A. Prior, the show fuses contemporary psychology and existential angst to the expected assortment of evil stepmothers, monsters, beautiful princesses and magical transformations. The company's embellishments and permutations are as fanciful as the fairy tales themselves, though sometimes even the inventive performers are hard-pressed to keep the more repetitive and predictable story lines from wearing thin.
The opening tale, "Mother Winter," sets the dominant tone of mock-profundity as an exotically garbed Storyteller (Kirk Wilson) undercuts his rich mythological wellspring ("These are our stories . . . they belong to us as few things do") with irony as he sets his narrative in "A time before TV began. . . ."
What follows is a Cinderella-ish journey by a fair maiden (Cara T. Hoepner) sent by her abusive stepmother (Andre Marcus) to a magical realm where enchanted loaves of bread sing ad jingles and the ruling sorceress (Marcus) bestows great gifts on the good-hearted girl. When the stepmother sees the benefits she's inadvertently brought about, she sends her own lazy, self-centered daughter (campy Bennett Schneider) on a similar quest, with easily foreseeable results.
The second segment, "Going Under," frames a creepy tale about a three-headed monster (Prior, Robert Berg and Robin Quinn hissing for all they're worth) within a visit by a troubled patient (Indira Stefanianna) to a hypnotist (Tim Bennett) for help with her recurring dream. Despite the shades of "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" in the staging, this one tends to bog down in its limited terrain.
Long on atmosphere, the most successful piece, "Godfather Death," is a haunting, cautionary fable about a youth (Dimitri Xolt) who tests too far the benevolence of his dangerous benefactor Death (Mark Brey).
The final story, "Once Upon," features Prior, in unsettling death's head makeup, as a long-lost acquaintance who regales his old schoolmate (Schneider) and his doddering aunt (Robert Navarret) with his reflections as the male half of the Grimm Brothers' "Brother and Sister." His mournful longing for his halcyon days as a stag neatly upend the traditional happy ending and affords Prior an accomplished, if overextended, performance.
Imagine the Zucker brothers tackling the works of Joseph Campbell, and you've got the general idea.
* "A Grimm Evening," Highways, 1651 18th St., Santa Monica. Tonight-Sunday, 8:30 p.m. Ends Sunday. $12. (213) 660-8587. Running time: 1 hours, 40 minutes.