Life is no fairytale for the dozens of fairytale characters who people Mary Zimmerman’s dark and dazzling The Secret In The Wings, the latest from L.A.’s “Pay What You Want” Coeurage Theatre Company and as spellbinding a theatrical experience as I’ve had since Coeurage’s equally stunning Failure: A Love Story.

It’s clear from the show-opening, show-framing “Left In The Forest” that the world we’ll be inhabiting for the next ninety minutes would do the Brothers Grimm proud.

A self-absorbed young married couple heading out for dinner leave their young daughter Heidi in the care of an elderly next-door-neighbor, heedless to the girl’s protests that “Mr. Fitzpatrick is an ogre” with a tail that would do any reptile proud.

The girl’s parents have only just departed when said ogre suddenly proposes marriage, and when the dumbfounded young beauty responds with an unequivocal “No,” the grizzled old beast launches into the first of a half-dozen or so fairy tales he hopes will persuade her to rethink her refusal.

In “The Three Blind Queens,” a trio of royals choose to tear their eyes out rather than be murdered by a conspiring nursemaid and ambassador. “The Princess Who Wouldn’t Laugh” makes a deal with her matchmaking daddy to marry the first man who can make her laugh (and off with their heads to those who fail). In “The Three Snake Leaves,” a princess’s prenup specifies that her future husband be buried alongside her should she happen to meet her maker first. Princess “Allerleira” so resembles her deceased mother that upon her death, Daddy Dearest finds himself with a mind to marriage, incest be damned. In “Seven Swans, Or Silent For Seven Years,” a father’s curse turns his septet of rowdy sons into swans with only their bereft sister left behind.

A cast of nine Coeurage vets and newbies step into and out of four dozen or more characters as each of these tales gets told in its own original, offbeat way. “The Princess Who Wouldn’t Laugh” has a trio of would-be suitors doing standup and physical shtick that would do any vaudevillian proud. “The Three Snake Leaves” is recounted entirely in song. And all but one is told in two parts, the first half ending precisely at a moment where no “happily ever after” seems even remotely possible.

Director Joseph V. Calarco displays his trademark imagination and ingenuity throughout; composer Surrija and choreographer Tasheena Medina add so much more music, dance, and movement that this Secret In The Wings could just as easily be called musical theater as a play with music; and a phenomenally talented team of designers—scenic designer JR Bruce, properties designer Michael O’Hara, lighting designer Brandon Baruch, sound designer Calarco, costume and mask designer Kumie Asai, and video designer Marc Hampson—create a world in which an attic strewn with bits and pieces of a family’s past can become a palace, a mountaintop, or a tomb, and anything within can be whatever your imagination makes it.

A superb triple-threat ensemble—Eduardo Fernandez-Baumann, Audrey Flegel, Margaret Katch, Leslie Murphy, Katie Pelensky, Sean Spann, Randy Thompson, and Eddie Vona—embody kings and queens and princes and princesses and courtiers galore opposite Leon Russom’s appropriately grizzled Ogre.

TJ Marchbank scores high marks for his fight choreography. Additional design kudos go out to Bob Beuth (additional masks) and Abraham Luke Rodriguez (assistant mask designer).

Katelyn Gault is assistant director. Eryn Bollin is stage manager.

Alternate cast members Ricky Abilez, Paul Baird, Rebecca Curtis, Nick Molari, Grace Morrison, Tiffany Mualem, Clare Snodgrass, James Tumminia, and Reuben Uy take centerstage on Wednesday November 22.

No theatergoer in search of something out of the ordinary could hope for more mesmerizing theatrical magic than that now taking place on the Lankershim Arts Center stage. The Secret In The Wings is Los Angeles theater at its most thrilling and Coeurage Theatre Company at its most coeurage-ous.

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The Historic Lankershim Arts Center, 5108 Lankershim Boulevard, North Hollywood.

–Steven Stanley
November 11, 2017
Photos: John Klopping


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