There’s something about fairy tales.
We grow up with them, internalize them. They’re the first stories that many of us experience, whether it be through the auspices of Grimm or Disney. There’s something about them that resonates in the programming of our souls, that helps us make sense of the world. Big bad wolves and strange woodsmen and hunters. Lost princesses, dwarves, and villains. Animals granted the agency and wit of humans.
As the formation of language and culture, fairy tales inform our norms, give us things to aspire to be or people we can measure ourselves against, for good or ill. It’s easy to dismiss them as simple fables and leave them at that, but there’s a rich tapestry to draw upon. It’s why we’ve seen such a resurgence of the old stories, through the Disney Princess line, Once Upon a Time, and even considerate inversions – like this one.
The Orthos Theater Company has put together a Modern Fairy Tale. It’s a deep look at the tropes that make fairy tales work, while dismissing much of the window dressing that gets in the way of the core underlying themes. Gone are the reliance on gender identity as a forced construct – the good people of this town accept gender and sexual identity on a casual basis, having evolved past discrimination on that front, but they still suffer from an underlying prejudice against anthropomorphized animals.
And that’s where our story begins: There’s a royal ball coming up and everyone is invited, even the animals. One of the royals, Cinder, remembers his roots and how the animals made his cute outfits, and the Prince cannot argue against their impeccable talent for crafting fashion. Wolf is trying to work up the courage to ask Red Riding Hood to go along with them.
There’s problems, though. Red’s parents were eaten by wolves, and she’s now living with her overprotective granny and being stalked by her incredible douche-bro of an ex-boyfriend, both of whom are very anti-animal and so obsessed in the rightness of their causes that they refuse to see the damage they’re doing to everyone else.
I don’t want to give away the story – you really should go see this – but the villains need to be talked about. Imagine if Dolores Umbridge and Gaston got together and hatched a scheme to strip away the agency of someone they both claimed to love, all the while demanding that it was for that person’s own good. Imagine them dancing on that person’s very identity and memory, trying to strip away from them choice and reason.
They’re loathsome, and played to perfection by Natalie Schreiber and Bradford Pellerin. They’re evil people convinced that they are acting in the best interests of everyone around them, which makes them all the more terrifying for how reflective they are for the worst parts of our society. They are the people who will make decisions on your behalf without consulting you, and scream about you not respecting them if you try to stand up for yourself.
And the people standing against them? They’re not heroes, not in the classical sense. Instead, we’re given people that are vulnerable, characters that are given new purpose under the skill of this pen. Standing out especially is the performance of Sasja Towe, who plays Wolf. Their performance is soulful, haunting, and touching all at once, a high energy hope built on facial expression and body language.
Stand out performances also come from Bev Rapley and Julia Fox, who play Cat in Boots and Red, respectively. Bev’s performance as Cat in Boots was so strong that several members in the audience were entertaining the idea of just watching her improv doing cat things, as there is a moment in the show where this happens and it’s easily one of the funniest moments you’ll see in the whole show. Julia’s Red is full of indignation and a desire to find herself, and her journey into self-mastery is hard fought and earned.
Kay Lozada plays a Snow White that has been traumatized, and she gets a musical number towards the end of the first act that is chilling in content and imagery, and her voice takes on an ethereal cast as she walks us through the nightmare she lived through.
The rest of the cast also pours their hearts into this performance. Notably, Chris Lovatt turns in an excellence background performance as a Peter Pan who flits through the background, while James Hussen and Shaun McHale slither through each act as Captain Hook and Scar, shadowing the Hunter and making him a much larger menace than he might otherwise be.
Eventually, of course, the villains get what’s coming to them, and this where I had a few problems – but, upon reflection, I realized the problem lay with me. The villains in this show are reprehensible and vile creatures, perversions of familial and romantic love. They’ve caused so many people so much hurt over the course of this story, and their punishment is to be arrested rather than killed.
My heart demanded vengeance. The script, thankfully, is better than I am. A civil society has laws for a reason, and the villains revealed are brought low before the law, to face justice instead of revenge. They are crass and banal creatures, and the energy that could be spent punishing them is better spent fixing the damage they’ve done. The script gets this right, and the actors sell it.
Better still, the minions that obeyed them abandon them as they fall, and end up taking them to face whatever justice awaits them. Evil does not have friends, and cannot command love or loyalty because it understands neither. This story tells that, sells that, and does it beautifully.
A Modern Fairy Tale was written by Lisa Simon, and is showing at the Metro Theatre until the 30th of August. You can pre-buy tickets by clicking here, or by calling 604-266-7191. They go for $20, and are worth every penny. The photos used in this article were taken by Haley Bouchard of Little Cat Photography.