Toys – A Dark Fairy Tale: Toys R (or Aren’t) Us
Produced by J.U.S.T. Toys Productions @59E59 Theaters
Toys: A Dark Fairy Tale is a complicated creature to digest. It begs us to try to dissect the feast of abstractionisms served up in this short 65-minute piece. It starts with a bland and not very authentic sounding answering machine message that takes us back years, but the reference remains unclear how it serves the structure. The first visual presents the juxtaposition that is encrusted in this convoluted dissertation of what it means to be a woman in a war-torn country as opposed to one removed and raised in an American suburban fairy tale existence. There is a pretty young woman clutching her toy teddy bear lying on the floor in a pool of white purist light, while a black clad woman in dark glasses stands motionless across the stage. It definitely brings a creepy edge to the proceedings, and really stamps a question mark as to what we were about to experience.
Is this a dream, a fantasy, or a nightmare, playing out in the suburban’s guilt-ridden mind? You see, the woman in the light clothes, Clara (Julia Ubrankovics) escaped the war torn country when she was young and adopted into an American family. She was able to flee the country that these two figures are both from. The silent foreboding one had to learn how to survive, as she had no other choice or escape plan. She says her name is Madonna, although that is just a name she was given much later in life. Her true name is Shari (Tunde Skovran), and the toys she played with, the ones that helped her survive a war torn country, are grenades, not teddy bears. The two share a secret that Clara doesn’t readily want to take in, one that connects her more intrinsically to Shari. Clara would rather focus on her research of Shari’s wartime survival story for a PhD thesis, while happily dreaming of her upcoming wedding in Connecticut.
Saviana Stanescu (Ants, Lenin’s Shoe) is a Romanian-born award-winning writer, considered by many as one of the most exciting voices to emerge in Eastern Europe after the fall of the Iron Curtain. She has written a piece that demands attention, but confuses as much as it enlightens. Throwing images of dead babies and boyfriends, both real and imaginary, all over the stage she’s attempting to create a theatre of war and its impact on women. Some of her lines and structures are provocative and drenched with meaning, such as “you can’t say ok and everything bad is gone”, but more often than not, we are left to try to put together the oddly shaped pieces of this dark fairy tale all on our own.
Director Gabor Tompa’s (1999’s film: “Chinese Defense”) go-for-broke creation is meandering and disturbing as much as it is thoughtful on and off throughout this experimental piece. There are some disturbing visual and sound concepts that are off-centered leaving much to be interpreted and discussed after the show. It fluctuates from being engaging to confusing within its non-linear psychology. I found the last scenario playful as the costume designer, Elisa Benzoni discovers a creative use of plastic bags to make a strong but abstract comment on the dramatically different focal points for those women at war and those that are not. As theatre, it left me with lots of think about, but not engaged enough to try too hard. Either you will be charmed and inspired by this creation, or, like me, amused but disinterested. Toys is like a box filled with the mis matched pieces from at least two puzzles, but not in their entirety, begging us to try to assemble the images without too much guidance or structure. More time is needed than the 65-minutes given, that is if you are still interested in the end to do the reconstruction with the hope the finished images will be meaningful.