BWW Reviews: Imagination Stage's RUMPELSTILTSKIN is Brilliantly Executed but Script is Disturbing

RUMPELSTILTSKIN is a Grimm fairy tale. The version currently being presented at Imagination Stage, in Bethesda, Maryland, for children between the ages of five and ten, is also a grim fairy tale. It is brilliantly staged and directed (by Janet Stanford), well-acted, and visually and aurally stunning. The background music, played on-stage by violinist Anthony Hyatt, dressed as one of the story's "fair folk" (i.e., fairies), ranges from classical to selections reminiscent of Irish folk music and klezmer. Daniel Pinha's scenic design, Katie Touart's costumes, and Rob Denton's lighting provide a visual feast. The designers contrast the drab colors enveloping the fair folk and working class people with the splendid colors surrounding the royal family, and use somber lighting for darker parts of the story and sunny brilliance for happier events. Gwen Grastorf, whom the program credits as the "movement specialist," fully integrates ballet-like fairy dances with the story. Christopher Baine's sound design perfectly captures the anger of the unseen, hungry crowds and their jubilation when the king marries the miller's daughter. Rarely do children have the opportunity to see a show that so successfully introduces them to the breathtaking beauty possible in live theater.

The miller's daughter (Katherine Renee Turner) realizes that she can't spin straw into gold.

The performances, too, deserve accolades - Equity members Kathryn Kelley (Mess and the queen) and Ricardo Frederick Evans (the miller and the chancellor) convey sarcasm with facial expressions and changes in tone - something that the older children in the audience and the parents will find humorous. Katherine Renee Turner (the miller's daughter), a recent college graduate, has already appeared in films and on stage locally and internationally. I fully expect to read about Ms. Turner's Broadway debut in the near future. Equity member Matthew Pauli (Rumpelstiltskin), who performs professionally as a clown as well as an actor, moves with skill and grace, and manages to convey evil without unduly frightening the more impressionable members of the audience - a feat in light of the dark story.

The fair folk, l to r, Jason Glass, Anthony Hyatt, Kathryn Kelley,
and Katherine Renee Turner try to kidnap the miller's daughter.

In playwright Mike Kenny's interpretation, the miller's wife dies giving birth to a daughter, whom the fairies attempt to kidnap, and toss around the room in a spirited game of catch before having their plans thwarted. Several years pass, and the king dies, leaving the spoiled prince, who is still a child, to assume the throne. After he grows up and realizes that he has dissipated the kingdom's treasury on expensive parties, he hears that the miller's daughter can spin straw into gold, a rumor that the miller accidentally started. The king commands her to appear at the palace and leads her down, down, down to a dungeon in a journey reminiscent of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA's final lair scene. The king locks the young woman in with the instruction to spin the room full of straw into gold by morning on pain of losing her head. She is left alone in the dungeon sure that she is about to die, when Rumpelstiltskin pops in and agrees to perform the task in exchange for her necklace, the only legacy she has from her mother. The next morning, the thrilled king leads her to an even larger room, where events repeat, with Rumpelstiltskin agreeing to perform the task in exchange for the young woman's ring. The third time, the king informs her that he will marry her if she succeeds and kill her if she doesn't. Rumpelstiltskin appears again, but this time she has nothing more to give, except the promise of a future first-born, which he eagerly accepts; for some reason, the fair folk, who love babies and plan to protect any they obtain from harm, see nothing wrong with collecting them by nefarious means. Rumpelstiltskin performs his part of the agreement, and the treasury is saved.

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Audrey Liebross Audrey Liebross writes legal briefs for a federal agency in the daytime and fiction at night, although some folks don’t see the difference. Audrey’s short stories and nonfiction pieces have been published in magazines and mystery collections. She has completed two mystery novels (as yet unpublished — her writing is MUCH better than her marketing) and is currently working on a “fan fiction” retelling of “The Phantom of the Opera.” Audrey is married with three grown sons and two beautiful granddaughters.

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