Goblins, Rag Dolls, and Forbidden Fruit :: Blue Spruce Presents ’Faerie Tales’

by Kilian Melloy
Tuesday May 21, 2013

" 'Goblin Market' was suggested to me right after we finished out first production as another very small musical that had a compelling story," Jesse Strachman, the producing artistic director for Blue Spruce Theatre told EDGE in a recent interview. "When I looked at that piece, I loved it. It was so short I thought it would be best to try and pair it with another work so it would be a full evening's show."

Blue Spruce Theater was founded in 2006 with the purpose of "bring[ing] high-quality, intimate musical theatre to audiences beyond Boston," as text at their website explains. "The mission is to produce works that connect us to each other as people and provide us with a better understanding of who we are, where we came from, and where we are headed."

"Since 'Goblin Market' was set in a sort of fairy land, I thought that pairing it with another piece that was fairy tale themed seemed appropriate," Strachman continued. " 'Goblin Market' is not, strictly speaking, a fairy tale. It was written by someone in the 1850s, Christina Rossetti, and it was originally a children's poem. But it shared many of the same qualities as classic fairy tales, particularly fables, as the story has a sort of moral to it."

But it's not so simple and straightforward as that, is things turn out. Strachman went on to observe, "There is some ambiguity about whether 'Goblin Market' was originally intended to be a children's story, or as possibly a piece of Victorian-era veiled erotica."


Strachman pointed to various lines from the original poem, including a suggestive passage in which the main character, who purchases some produce from the goblins of the title, "laughed in heart to feel the drip / Of juice that syruped all her face, / And lodged in dimples of her chin, / And streaked her neck which quaked like curd." When place in the context of "veiled erotica," those descriptions do take on an unmistakable air of the evocative. In any case, Strachman, who directs the show, made a point of adding, "We are presenting it as a fairy tale or fable."

Strachman explains that Polly Pen and Peggy Harmon adapted the poem to the stage. "The original production of ['Goblin Market'] was in the 1980s," he noted. The companion piece, "The Rag Doll," is entirely new, and receives its world premiere in this run. "The Rag Doll" is the work of Silvia Graziano, who wrote the book, and David Reiffel, who wrote the music and lyrics.

There's an interesting coincidence here, insofar as Reiffel attended the same high school as Pen, though three years behind Pen's grade. But the work at hand isn't exactly a continuation of the original, nor is it an homage. "It was written to be a sequel, and also as a stand-alone piece," Strachman said. "But I don't want to give too much away about the nature of the piece as a sequel; that's left deliberately ambiguous, although there will be hints as to the relationship between the pieces."

The two musical one-act plays star the same pair of performers, two actresses "who are both immensely talented," Strachman told EDGE. "Theresa Winner Blume has been seen recently in a number of other musicals. She's performed with Lyric Stage, and also with Moonbox Productions. She has an opera background. The other actor is Abigail Clarke -- she is relatively new on the scene. She's pretty newly out of Brandeis University and has done a number of shows there. I believe she has also performed with Reagle."

Strachman explained that though this is a small production, its ambitions are anything but. "It's a two-person cast, and a four-person orchestra [with music direction from Dan Rodriguez], and we definitely are performing in a very small space [the black box at the New Repertory Theatre in Watertown], but it is just about two hours worth of solid performance, and we will certainly be using an enormous amount of movement-based story telling."

By that, as it turns out, Strachman means the show boasts a good deal of choreography, by Kira Cowen. "An enormous amount of choreography," Strachman said, "and it's taken a very long time to master that aspect of the piece." The cast members have proven themselves assets here: "Both of them seem to have a background in dance - they certainly showed their stuff at auditions, and we've been happy to work with them in this manner," Strachman noted.

"Goblin Market" stays true to the provenance of the original poem, but "The Rag Doll" moves the action to modern times. That's not the only key difference between the two one-act plays.

"What happened was, I, David, and Silvia sat down with the rest of our production team," Strachman recounted. "We actually had a collaborative discussion with every to try and decide what we wanted to do. We knew that we wanted something that was complimentary [to 'Goblin Market'] - that is, we didn't want to build another operetta. We wanted to set it in a modern setting. We also thought it might be fun to do it in a fairly mundane setting, as opposed to a fairyland setting, but then bring the element of Faerie into the mundane world."

By mundane, it turns out, the company determined that the new piece should unfold in a convenience store.

"It was a pretty collaborative discussion on the setting of a convenience store, and it seems like there might not be a whole lot of things you can do with that but, in point of fact, a lot of strange things happen in convenience stores late at night!" Strachman noted.

"We were trying to decide whether we wanted this to be more of a stand-alone, or more of a companion piece. We decided to be sure that it could be perceived as either. We were pretty careful with that because while we would like to re-stage 'Fairy Tales' somewhere else, we also like the option of having 'The Rag Doll' have a life of its own, and possibly re-mount it in another way, or perhaps expand on the piece."

Regrettably, the show is slated for an extremely short run: Five performances, from May 23-26. "The space was not available for more than just a single weekend," the director explained.

Blue Spruce Theater faces an all-too-common problem, one that confronts arts organizations perennially, but especially in recent years: There simply are not adequate financial resources out there. Ticket sales cover only about 1/3 of the production costs of any given show. Traditional sources of funding, such as grants, can be hard to access, assuming they still exist at all, and especially for small and fringe theater.

"We have a difficult time getting grants because we are not fully 501(c)3," Strachman pointed out. "It's a very expensive process that requires a lot of accounting, and we wanted to be sure that we were going to be a very stable organization before we jumped through all those hoops."

Necessity is, as they say, the mother of invention, and creative solutions are part and parcel of the Internet age. "We do have an Indiegogo campaign for this particular show," Strachman told EDGE, "and we are under an umbrella organization called Fractured Atlas that allows us to accept donations that are tax deductible.

"The show will go on regardless," Strachman added, "but unless we meet our goal, we will not recover the basic costs of putting on a production. We will be talking a loss on this unless we manage to sellout out every possible seat."

You hear that, Boston theater fans? Go get your tickets right now and prepare yourselves to enjoy a couple of good, old-fashioned "Faerie Tales."

"Faerie Tales" runs Thursday, May 23 - Sunday, May 26 at the Black Box Theater at the New Repertory Theatre, located at 321 Arsenal Street in Watertown. Tickets cost $25 general admission, and can be obtained from the box office via phone at 1-800-838-3006 or online at Brown Paper Tickets. Students, seniors, and children 12 and under pay $15. The Thursday, May 23, 7:30 performance will be a "Pay What You Can" (suggested donation of $10). Group rates available at 978-667-0512.

Performance schedule: Thursday, May 23, 7:30 p.m.; Friday May 24, 8:00 p.m.; Saturday, May 25, at 2:00 p.m. and at 8:00 p.m.; and Sunday May 26, 2:00 p.m.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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