BWW Reviews: The Washington Rogues Create a Modern, Bloody Twist to a Classic Fairy Tale in IN THE FOREST, SHE GREW FANGS
Have you heard the story of Little Red Riding Hood? It's a messy story: a girl wanders alone in the woods with cookies for her possibly agoraphobic grandmother who, for some godforsaken reason, lives in a house amidst the countless trees and winding paths that a little girl, frankly, should not be wandering by herself.
Fairy tales are often unconcerned with the safety of children.
The Washington Rogues and Cultural DC production of In the Forest, She Grew Fangs-written by Stephen Spotswood and directed by Ryan S. Taylor-tries very hard convey to the audience that this play is a retelling of that story but with a twist.
In this play, sixteen-year-old Lucy, played by Megan Graves, is a bullied, confused high school girl with a pornstar mother, an absent father and a grandmother, played by Jane Petkofsky, who has an impressive amount of mommy issues of her own.
Lucy wants to be a writer, hates school and likes going for long walks in the woods at all hours of the day and night. One day she walks into a lake and nearly drowns but is saved by Jenny, played by Jenny Donovon, who recently moved to town, hates every moment of it and wants to be back home with her apparently emotionally abusive and older boyfriend from California.
This rescue sets off a spiral that ends in almost their entire high school being slaughtered at the Halloween dance in a weird attempt at stylized fight choreography, with promise that this murder streak will never stop.
Spotswood drenches this play in imagery, depriving it of almost any action. He tells a story with a very impressive vernacular for the most part-although why the phrase 'blood red' was used so desperately is disconcerting considering the many other words for both the color red and for blood-but the story completely lacks almost any action. Even when high school students and teachers are being brutally murdered, which the audience would have easily understood by watching the murders that were happening, their deaths were explained over and over, which is unsurprising since this was the modus operandi for most of the play.
Moments of clarity were scarce in this play, hidden in wordy, stumbling attempts to create tension without having any action to propel it.
When there were scenes where the characters talked to each other and not to the audience, the play was enjoyable. A particularly remarkable scene between Jenny and Lucy, the lights casting halos over the actresses as they shared their adolescent anguish and advice, expressed everything the scene needed to say not just with words but with action. They were talking to each other, not telling the audience what they talked about to each other earlier. It was refreshing.
Spotswood uses scenes to preface action, but almost never delivers on that action. When he does deliver an active scene, it is unnecessary. For example, he refuses to show the scene where Lucy is bullied by Robin (aka: Hunter), played by Luke Cieslewicz, after their first kiss, but relentlessly tells the audience three seperate times about it-yet, in between these many explanations, the audience gets to watch Lucy in her throws of masturbatory fantasy until she reaches her climax.
All of the actors were, amidst all the blood and ridiculous prose, impressive to watch. Megan Graves immediately captured the heart of the audience with her frank and youthful delivery. She saw to the core of what it meant to be a young, bullied teenager and made that clear that just because Lucy was young and angst-ridden did not mean her feelings held no merit. She was a girl who had an incredibly painful past and until the messy climax of the play-messy both in terms of story telling and in fake blood-shared a glimpse of painful adolescence.
Jenny Donovon, while not necessarily a believable high schooler, was an amusing reprieve from the rambling outpour of unnecessary verbiage. Granted, her monologues also beat the long dead horse of "I'm a teenager and I'm mad!" to oblivion, but her delivery was mostly honest. It was not until the end of the play, when her character undergoes a major change, that I stopped believing her.
Similar problem with Luke Cieslewicz occurred. He was endearing and hilarious, while being unintentionally and nearly reprehensibly sexist most of the time, but he was definitely no longer a high schooler. Even in Jenny and Hunter's physicality, there was a distinct lack of youthful expression. They were more believable as college students, if still a bit naïve mentally, than high school. They were not convincing as high schoolers, but were none the less entertaining and very talented.
For such a small space, the lighting was especially effective. The contrast between the woods, high school and hospital was made clear in the small space merely by the lighting. The lighting followed the cast as they wrapped themselves tightly in their narratives. The design, when necessary, exposed the stark horrors of the story which the playwright himself could hardly convey himself.
This play, despite its inability to convey a story with action, was mostly enjoyable. The hard work of the actors and the director was evident throughout, although some scene changes were awkward, enough to be noticeable to the audience.
In the Forest, She Grew Fangs turned out to not be about a girl who grew fangs at all, but about an unbelievable and possibly good fantasy that now needs to figure out how to make her claws seem real. Considering this story stems from a fairy tale about wolves impersonating grandmothers to get a snack, this may be a massive undertaking.
If one can accept Spotwood's vague, yet overly descriptive narrative style, the lighting design and acting are reason enough to see this play. Deep down past the blood is a story about a hurt girl who wants nothing more than to be loved by her peers.
Photo Credit: Chris Maddaloni, courtesy of The Washington Rogues.