Love and fear are not only almost indistinguishable, but inextricable. Both have similar symptoms: a pounding heart, sweating palms, a heightened, technicolour perception of reality. People love to be scared, and people are scared to be in love.
Mary Zimmerman’s The Secret in the Wings, presented by the fourth-year acting class of the Fountain School of Performing Arts, is a discomforting theatrical experience which explores the complicated relationship between love and fear through a series of lesser-known fairytales.
The production is both nightmarish and charming in its execution. It centres on Maeghan (played by Maeghan Taverner), a young girl whose parents go out to dinner and leave her with a terrifying babysitter, and their next-door neighbour, Mr. Robins (played by Logan Robins), who just happens to be an ogre. Mr. Robins repeatedly asks Maeghan if she will marry him and proceeds to tell her a series of terrifying fairytales, which are beautifully brought to life onstage by the actors and technical team.
Darkness and light
The fairytales featured in The Secret in the Wings cover decidedly dark topics ranging from murder and incest to cannibalism. Despite the uncomfortable material, “there is some innocence in it too,” says actress Katie Graham, who plays among other roles Maeghan’s Mother and Allerleira: “The whole thing is being filtered through the lens of a child’s eyes.”
“It doesn’t seem at first that there is light, but then as [the play] goes, you can see [the light] coming and coming,” says Assistant Director Jayden Gigliotti. Using choreographed movement, music, and stunning visual effects the production manages to strike a delicate balance between gravity and levity.
Stage Manager Kevin Dacey describes the overall effect as “magical” and “wondrous,” while Graham uses the word “fantastical.” Gigliotti mentions that every time he watches the show, he “gets chills.”
The eeriness of the play is, however, well-suited to the season — after all, Halloween is just around the corner.
A personal touch
The already difficult task of acting is exacerbated by Zimmerman’s script: it requires that the two characters around whom the plot revolves are named for the actors portraying them. Director Samantha Wilson asked the actors during the rehearsal process: “What does that mean, to be addressed as yourself onstage, and is it removing a layer between you and the audience, and is there a vulnerability there?”
“When we first started the readings, I felt extremely exposed when my own name was being used, and suddenly it became so much more personal for me because I wasn’t able to create a definitive separation right off the bat for my character,” says Maeghan Taverner, describing the relationship between herself and the child she plays The Secret in the Wings. “It was almost like parts of myself were being pulled into the storyline.”
“It’s definitely strange; you see very few instances in theatre where the characters are named after the actors,” adds Robins, “often for the reason of you don’t want them to be associated, so I think that [the fact] Mary Zimmerman has specifically requested that the characters be directly associated with the actors speaks a lot to what she’s trying to get out of the show.”
Robins plays the terrifying, monstrous “Mr. Robins” — an ogre who desperately craves love and human interaction. “But for me personally, being named after my character, it makes it tough to have people treat you like an ogre and still call you by your name…it’s not necessarily always a good feeling.”
Love is an open door — and so is fear
“I guess I look at it from a layered perspective,” says Wilson on how she interprets The Secret in the Wings.
This “layered perspective” has allowed Wilson to tease out the love amongst the more obvious fear in the myriad stories. The abundance of love and fear experienced and conveyed by the actors invites each audience member to leave with their own interpretation of its meaning. The interplay between the love and fear opens countless proverbial doors to conclusions about why love and fear are, more often than not, felt together.
When asked about how she feels about opening night, Graham says, “Holy moly, I’m so excited!” Her passion for the show is mirrored by not only the other actors but the entire production team, and that excitement is what makes this production of The Secret in the Wings so magical.
Many people in North American society consider fairytales an inalienable aspect of their childhood. The Secret in the Wings offers up the chance for audience members to discover that fairytales can continue to shape us as adults — but only if we are willing to consider that the dragons in our lives might really be princesses after all.
The Secret in the Wings runs through Saturday, October 13 at the Dalhousie Arts Centre. Tickets are available from the Dalhousie Arts Centre Box Office.
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