Bedtime Stories: A variation on stereotypes

Bedtime Stories
Venue 5: Fanshawe Theatre in Citi Plaza
 Troupe Name: The Voices Collective
Troupe Origin: London, ON
Playwright: Diana Kolpak
Featuring: Laura Nielson, Nicole Newell, Jenn Floris, Kayla Rock
Warnings: This show contains mature themes not suitable for young children.
Audience: General Entertainment
Show Length: 60min
Performances: Sund., June 9 - 4:30 p.m., Tues., June 11 - 6:00 p.m., Thurs., June 13 - 8:00 p.m., Sat., June 15 - 6:00 p.m., Sun., June 16 - 8:00 p.m.

“I figure if a girl wants to be a legend she should just go ahead and be one.” Calamity Jane

Bedtime Stories had a promising start: the four female characters.... Cinderella married to her Prince, the Witch from Rapunzel, the Queen who outsmarted Rumpelstiltskin and Bluebeard’s wife...take the stage in well designed costumes and chant together eloquently about power and story. The tone is set for the spinning of “opposite sides” of traditional tales.

A good premise, but conveyed through somewhat melodramatic writing and uninspired direction, the characters and their portrayers are not served very well. Each, in turn, gets up and tells her back story, and though there a few murmurs from the other three at times, their responses are not sufficient to function as a Chorus. That convention, or possibly having the characters interact in actual conversation, might have made for a more entertaining and less didactic tone.

A number of lessons are shared: how girls are taught, even by well-meaning mentors, to be neat, tidy and kind, to get their reward “someday”; how they are victims of male violence, greed and exploitation; and that they do not always survive intact emotionally or morally.We are invited to see heroines and villains in some new lights, but the morals of the stories are not particularly fresh and are rather heavy-handed.

Laura Nielson’s playful approach to Cinderella’s candour was enjoyable, though her character’s solution to Palace oppression seemed overly naive. Nicole Newell’s lovely singing voice added to the significance of her tale, though I would have preferred more understated direction of the emotional recounting of her plight. Jenn Floris brings impressive stage presence to the details of her battle with Rumpelstiltskin and the author’s predictable attempt to portray him from a different perspective. And Kayla Rock was able to create an atmosphere of some suspense amid the frequently confusing reworking of the Bluebeard tale.  

To be fair, I must report that a fellow reviewer and I were the only audience members at the well-attended opening performance who did not rise for a standing ovation.

Rather than being cynical about the production, I was disappointed at such complete and simplistic hopelessness in the retelling of these tales.

Someone associated with the play wondered if the fact that Bedtime Stories is one of the few non-comedies at this year’s Fringe, would make it problematic for those attending. I think the issue lies more in the play’s lack of a clear identity regarding what it is, rather than what it is not. It isn’t tragedy and it lacks sufficient subtlety to succeed as irony. Bleak is different than dark and even the most serious of subjects can suffer from a humourless treatment.

I am not sure if the play is intended as a feminist work but for me the characters are no more fully realized at the end. They are still stereotypes; just of a different kind and certainly none has gained in power. I felt sad that the victimization of each woman had been intensified, despite Rumpelstiltskin’s Queen’s attempts to, "avoid being a victim at all costs." Cinderella warns that, “Stories can make you something you’re not; you can never escape them.” I hope that is not the fate of these four!

/   4

Susannah Joyce has published poetry and articles in various Canadian journals and has written a number of books on community involvement and people who have a disability. Recently she was a contributor to Jack Layton: Art in Action, Quattro Books. Theatre and film are ongoing passions and she is completing work on a two woman show based on characters from the novels of L.M Montgomery.   

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