The original title of the famous collection of stories by the Brothers Grimm was not “Grimm’s Fairy Tales” but “Children’s and Household Tales.” We tend to remember the children but forget about the other parts of the household. Sunshine and singing birds, princesses and pink castles are slick, Disneyfied glosses on these stories, but the original tales, including the most familiar ones such as “Snow White” and “Cinderella,” are dark and violent, with themes of family betrayal, hunger, poverty, mutilation, sexual jealousy (often within families), the supernatural and revenge. Scholars have even argued that the brothers — Christian, academic and upper middle-class — did some major scrubbing in transcribing the original folklore. As originally told, the stories were probably much grimmer.
It’s interesting, then, to come across storytellers who try to tell them with all the dark elements intact. “Snow, Glass, Apples,” adapted and directed by Lisa Stock and her InByTheEye troupe, attempts to restore Snow White to the grown-up part of the household by basing its site-specific retelling, at the East Atlanta Village Farmers Market, on a short story by English author Neil Gaiman.
In Gaiman’s version, Snow White is an amoral, vampiric monster, and the queen is blameless in her attempts to rid the kingdom of her. The 45-minute show will run through Sunday, August 28, at 8:30 p.m nightly.
The production precedes a coming wave of local shows that take a nuanced look at the stories we tell children. The biggest artistic institutions in town are picking up the thread: the Alliance Theatre’s highly anticipated production of the Stephen Sondheim musical “Into the Woods” opens in a week; “Wicked” comes to the Fox Theatre for a three-week run starting in mid-September; later this season, Atlanta Ballet will take on George MacDonald’s “The Princess and the Goblin” in a new story-ballet choreographed by Twyla Tharp; and Willy Wonka will dispense with naughty children one by one in the Atlanta Opera’s “The Golden Ticket.”
And “Snow, Glass, Apples” also catches another wave in Atlanta theater and performance art: a mania for site-specific work. It seems nowadays that Atlantans want to see theater anywhere but in a theater. We’ll follow the gloATL dancers into the Lindbergh MARTA Station, wander from room to room in an old house in East Atlanta for 7 Stages’ stageless “Go Ye Therefore,” chase after a truck full of dancers hauling around the Goat Farm in “PLOT,” or sit pondside to watch actors splashing through water at Serenbe Playhouse in “The Ugly Duckling.” Just specify the site and Atlantans will be there.
Unfortunately, “Snow, Glass, Apples” has trouble finding a balance between the admirably self-starting, communal spirit of its makers and the portentousness of Gaiman’s tale. Little is discovered by recasting Snow White as a monster, and the audience is left waiting for the clever twist that will bring the revelation. Folk stories were meant to fire up the dark side of the imagination of illiterate peasants, adults and children alike, and then pleasantly sort a messy world into neat stacks: wickedness was punished with eye-gouging and goodness was rewarded with marriage into royalty. The stories were passed down over hundreds of years, and nearly every permutation and variation was tried before the sticking formula was found. Turning the stories around 180 degrees is often not nearly as profitable or interesting as one might imagine. The same actors taking on a bloody version of the original tale might have been more compelling.
The trend toward site-specific theater is a positive sign. Atlanta theatrical artists and audiences are willing to try new things, and the muse is outpacing available venues. In this case the site wasn’t removed enough from its environment: the cicadas were nice, but wailing sirens and passing buses too easily snapped the audience out of the fairy tale mode. The makers’ hearts are in the right dark place, but Gaiman’s story doesn’t have the narrative pull, or the scary, pulsing, carved-out adult heart, of the original.