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The Secret in the Wings 

An alluring, surprising collage of disturbing European fairy tales

Wednesday, Oct 13 2004
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Mary Zimmerman's alluring surprise Broadway hit Metamorphoses was a collage of Greek myths according to Ovid. Her new show at the Berkeley Rep, The Secret in the Wings, is an alluring, and equally surprising, collage of European fairy tales according to the Brothers Grimm (among others). It starts with two cheerful parents, dressed up for some ball or luxury cruise, announcing to their daughter, Heidi, that Mr. Donahue from next door will baby-sit. "Mr. Donahue?" the girl screams. "The ogre?" Mr. Donahue makes his slow way into the house, wearing a 5 o'clock shadow and a huge lizard's tail. The parents, who notice nothing, smile and wave goodbye -- and Heidi's nightmare begins. This framing story is a version of "Beauty and the Beast," but most of the other tales are obscure: We watch seven brothers turn into swans, two puppet-snakes die and revive thanks to a magic herb, and three tuxedoed suitors lose their heads to the whim of a spoiled princess. Each story emphasizes the psyche's shadow, which makes the show more relevant to adults than kids; similarly, Daniel Ostling's excellent set features a few pieces of furniture from a middle-class home giving way to the dark, disorganized corners of a barn. Zimmerman directs with a perfect sense of rhythm in every scene, almost every gesture. Tiffany Scott is especially strong as Heidi; Christopher Donahue is controlled, eerie, and subtly humorous as the beastly neighbor. I wasn't a fan of Zimmerman's last show at the Rep, The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci, but The Secret in the Wings has her back in evocative form.

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