'Shiver' Explodes the Fairytale to Find Its Humanity


EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday June 26, 2015

The ensemble-created theatre troupe Project: Project has never read a script to choose their next production. Rather they take a theme and a bunch of ingredients into their creative laboratory, mix things together and wait for an explosion.

Their latest detonation is "Shiver: A Fairytale of Anxious Proportions" which runs through June 28 at the Boston Playwrights' Theatre, 949 Commonwealth Avenue. The result of this experiment is best summed up by something an unfortunate Army training film from the 1940s said: "When not close enough to be killed, the atomic bomb is one of the most beautiful sights in the world."

With "Shiver," Project: Project has really come into their own and created some of their most interesting work to date. Their latest theme is the fairytale; so appropriately enough, they started with the Brothers Grimm. But the company turned away from the familiar and found an obscure little tale called "The Boy Who Went Forth to Learn How to Shiver," a bizarre coming of age story about a fearless child.

Rather than heading out into the world to sell his cow or take baked goods to Granny, the little boy (played by Laurel Hill) directly seeks out a new experience. He wants to shiver. This is something everyone else does (and it's something that adults do all the time), but he is incapable of it.

The infamous siblings Grimm, whose name has become synonymous with the austere and the appalling, designed this piece of folklore to be told to a child lying in bed. It's full of fantastical characters and creepy situations that the Project: Project ensemble brings to life. Things like a pair of enormous black cats and two halves of a man with a fondness for playing cards. Adam Thenhaus, a large, powerful and fully bearded man, plays many of these characters -- moving back and forth between genders -- in the fashion of a great storyteller spinning a tale around the campfire.

Our escort into this magical world is the paranoid Ph.D. candidate Charlotte (Louise Hamill). She attempts to write her thesis about this beastly bedtime story and gets nowhere. But her efforts will take her to the Grimm Brother's archival library in Germany where she will meet her own folkloric archetypes -- like the gatekeeper protecting the entrance into her transformative world, a methodized receptionist played by Caitlin Gjerdrum.

Hamill is one of most tireless forces in the Boston theatre scene. Her focus: Workshopping and evolving new work. She is one of the founding members of Project: Project, and the new plays she has developed through her theatre company Fresh Ink are actively being picked up for productions in regional theatres across the nation. Somehow Hamill's character in this venture seems to parallel the artist's overall mission.

We know at some point our hero will need to meet with her mentor, or in this case mentors, the Brothers Grimm themselves, played by Scot Colford (Wilhelm) and Gabriel Graetz (Jacob). As bizarre and funny as these two are, it is they that give the play most of its heart.

The script for "Shiver" was written by Nina Louise Morrison and Cecelia Raker from the ideas and improvisations generated by the cast and the director Jeffrey Mosser.

The ensemble shows us the reason we still modify and retell the stories popularized by the Brothers Grimm: We want to be terrified as much as we want to be inspired. Fear takes on many forms, but in order to be profoundly afraid we must have an understanding of our own mortality, something that children really don't comprehend.

The little boy in the tale does achieve his goal, but only after he has faced-down a man with a long beard (the symbol of age and experience) who brings him to marry a princess (Lauren Foster). It is only through a deep connection with another person that the boy becomes "human" enough to experience fear.

Here's the really interesting part about this: The event that make the boy "shiver" (which I will withhold from you) happens to the boy in bed and his wife gives him the experience. It's an incident visceral enough for a child to imagine but inexplicable enough for an adult to interpret as sexual.

As "Shiver" progresses we realize that Wilhelm is dying of (most likely of tuberculosis), and this deeply affects his brother. The reality of losing a loved one is far more upsetting to Jacob than all his horrific imaginings to date, ghouls and ghosts and bowling with human skulls.

In a heartbreaking scene near the end of the play, Charlotte and Jacob converge through time and space to share a moment together. Human connection, in all its various forms thrills and terrifies us, but it is the universal spine of the lore we pass from generation to generation.

Due to high demand for conversation about the creation of devised theatre, Boston's ensemble-created theatre troupe, Project: Project, will host a talkback about the two-year process of creating "Shiver" after the show's performance on Saturday, June 27 at 8 PM.

"Shiver: A Fairytale of Anxious Proportions (A Phobic Folklorist Fugues the Fuck Out)" runs through June 28 at the Boston Playwrights' Theatre, 949 Commonwealth Avenue. For ticket visit web.ovationtix.com/trs/pr/946932 or call 866-811-4111.