Happily Ever After? 

This Fairy's Tale turns its head

Once upon a time, there was a magical land, an enchanted place called Berkeley, where, for some mysterious reason, two theater companies opened plays with serious fairy-tale trimmings on the very same weekend. In this land, an intrepid girl (we'll call her Little Red Reviewer) set out with a little sack of notebooks and pens to see if she could catch a genie, a giant, or at least a decent scrap of dialogue for her readers. What she found instead were two odd and fun shows, less than a block apart, that both play with language and expectation in very sophisticated ways while laying on either the vaudeville -- Jules Feiffer's Knock Knock at the Aurora -- or the fantastic -- The Fairy's Tail, a new Adam Bock romp presented by the Shotgun Players.

The Fairy's Tail focuses on a little girl who lives in a town called St. Joveet with her little brother and her momma and her papa. That is, until a wicked giant comes and steps on her house, killing her whole family, not to mention smushing all her precious stuff. So she sets off on a quest for revenge. Yes, it's a hero's journey; there are riddles and terrible swamps and beeyootiful princesses and talking fish and so on. There's even a narrator (Ana Bayat) with the whole story-hour thing down: the voice, the gestures, the flowing clothes.

But it's Little Missy What's-Her-Face and her boon companions Mrs. Piffle and Norbert Longlegs who take command of the story early on, insisting on doing things their way (watch how the line blurs and finally disappears between narrator and narratees near the end of the first act). And there are morals, but they're not the sort Bettelheim was talking about when he deconstructed fairy tales -- they're more important, like "Don't put beans in your ears" and "Don't make fun of the junk in other people's purses, because that junk might save your life." You don't, however, have to look all that deeply to get some real stuff, like "Take responsibility for what you make happen," "Revenge isn't all it's cracked up to be," and "Go ahead, come out of the closet."

The Shotgunners call this a fairy tale for adults, but I think any reasonably hip kid who can stay up past 8 p.m. would enjoy it, even if she didn't get all the jokes. Concerned parents should note that death is a recurring theme and a character does use the word "crap," but the kids who went to the matinee I saw seemed to handle it all just fine. It sure looks, sounds, and smells like a fairy tale -- there's plenty of silly music (written by Clive Worsley, Kristin Miltner, and Bock), sparkly costumes (Valera Coble), wacky dancing (Andrea Weber, once again bringing us something new and unexpected), and clever puppets (Sylvia Dawkin) -- especially the nimble mountain goats and the giant squid. It uses the language and structure of a fairy tale. But how many fairy tales feature answering machines, shower caps, and gay heroes?

The Fairy's Tail also gives us an opportunity to enjoy the talents of both longtime company members and new faces. Beth Donohue shines again as hell-bent heroine Little Missy What's-Her-Face who isn't taking guff from anyone, including Katie Bales Frasinelli (No. 14 on the Registry of Most Beautiful Princesses), a survival-minded schoolteacher fish (Reid Davis), the denizens of the Fart Swamp, or the family-squishing giant. And have I mentioned lately how crazy I am about Trish Mulholland? No? From what I've seen, Mulholland can do anything, whether she's covered in blood or a classic black and white housekeeper uniform. Here she's the ever-so-proper Mrs. Piffle, who, through an unfortunate incident with a box of knives, has managed to lose her employers and so agrees to join Little Missy What's-Her-Face on her journey. Also very proper (and easily distracted by pretty flowers) is Norbert Longlegs (newcomer Ty Blair) who through inattention has just lost his beloved Ernie (Andy Alabran). The cast is rounded out by a sullen Flamingo Singer (Kathleen Antonia) and the capricious Wind (Kimberly Wilday).

There's a little irony here in that Tail was supposed to be the glittery first show in Shotgun's new theater in the Gaia building. Stuff got rearranged, shows shuffled, to make it so. And then, just before tech week, word came down that the new space wasn't going to be seaworthy in time for Tail to open. Fortunately, the Rep's thrust stage was free, so the show opened on time in the latest in a long string of borrowed spaces. After the Rep, Tail will move to the UC Theatre and the Julia Morgan. The Shotgunners have always been peripatetic, but this is a lot even for them.

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