Off-Broadway Theater Review: THE WILD BRIDE (St. Ann’s Warehouse)

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by Sarah Taylor Ellis on March 5, 2013

in Theater-New York

GO TO THE DEVIL

With his lanky limbs draped over a rocking chair, the Devil has an undeniable magnetism. This storyteller exudes a Southern, gentlemanly charm – but dark motives lurk behind his twinkling eyes. “Sit with me, friends,” he lures the audience Sarah Taylor Ellis' Stage and Cinema review of Kneehigh's THE WILD BRIDE at St. Anne's NYCin. “Let’s wait for somethin’ to happen.”

The “somethin'” that follows is The Wild Bride, a thrilling and chilling fairy tale. Cornwall-based company Kneehigh (also responsible for the theatrically arresting Brief Encounter that transferred from St. Ann’s Warehouse to Broadway in 2010) adapts the folk story “The Handless Maiden” into a consummately crafted play, rich in inventive and homespun design, dance, and music.

With adaptor/director Emma Rice at the helm, The Wild Bride is set in a Depression-era dust bowl. Bill Mitchell’s sepia set design, enhanced with lighting design by Malcolm Rippeth, is evocative of a yellowing old photograph. A troupe of plaid-clad bluegrass musicians sits stage right, wooden platforms outline the stage, and a towering apple tree blooms in the center.

Stuart Goodwin plays a devoted but absent-minded father who strikes a deal with a charismatic stranger; the father unwittingly sells his innocent young daughter to the Devil (Andrew Durand) in exchange for untold riches. Rather than accept her fate, Sarah Taylor Ellis' Stage and Cinema review of Kneehigh's THE WILD BRIDE at St. Anne's NYCthe daughter flees into the wild and learns from the horrific trials that follow.

Rice’s adaptation employs three women – Audrey Brisson (The Girl), Patrycja Kujawska (The Wild), and Etta Murfitt (The Woman) – to portray this character’s development. Although the maiden’s role is largely speechless, her assertive physicality brings across a strong message of female empowerment, and the women continually support one another in their collective storytelling.

Rice’s adaptation is unafraid to probe the grim side of this Grimm tale, from the Girl’s hopeless wandering in the wilderness to having her hands hacked off by her own father. Dirty and devilish blues (a la Robert Johnson) underscore the play’s Sarah Taylor Ellis' Stage and Cinema review of Kneehigh's THE WILD BRIDE at St. Anne's NYCaesthetic; Stu Barker’s rich score is particularly haunting when filled out with the powerful and plaintive tones of Brisson’s voice.

Yet the play strikes a balance of the dark and light, with many moments of whimsy supported by spectacularly innovative design and direction, not to mention a multitalented cast equally at home in improv, movement, and music. Kneehigh’s ensemble storytelling is an entrancing affair not to be missed.

Sarah Taylor Ellis' Stage and Cinema review of Kneehigh's THE WILD BRIDE at St. Anne's NYCphotos by Steve Tanner

The Wild Bride
Kneehigh at St. Ann’s Warehouse
scheduled to end on March 17, 2013
for tickets, call 718-254-8779
or visit http://www.stannswarehouse.org

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