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Performance Thu Oct 08 2015
Photo by Cole Simon.
They laughed a little louder, they cried a little softer, they lived a little stronger because they stood together...sisters.
This quote from an unknown author exhibits the connection between sisters Lizzie (played by Jennifer T. Grubb) and Laura (Stephanie Stockstill) in the musical adaptation of the 1862 poem Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti. It was made into a "mini-musical" by Polly Pen and Peggy Harmon, with music by Pen. As I watched its staging, I appreciated the connections and execution, but I would have liked to feel more closure in the open-ended interpretation.
The connection between actors became apparent within the first few moments of the performance, with the playful stanza:
"Come buy our orchard fruits,
Come buy, come buy:
Apples and quinces,
Lemons and oranges,
Plump unpeck'd cherries,
Melons and raspberries,
The sisters, draped in beautiful black dresses with intricate ruffles and bodices, represented the Victorian Era in which the original Goblin Market was written, yet embraced the playful and entrancing atmosphere of two sisters playing "Patty-Cake" at the park. The enthusiasm and repetitive motions associated with these simple fruits opened the doors to reminiscence. This intensity enveloped the audience throughout the play. When one sister started to forget the fruit names, the play gradually transitioned into the next part of the performance, which enhanced the staging of the sisters at home.
Dresses unbuttoned and gloves taken off and carefully put away, the girls revealed white common gowns complete with tight white bodices under the black high-necked dresses, never detracting from the performance itself. Songs brought us through scene changes and the intensity of the details and the uncanny connection between the girls continued.
There was no doubt that Stephanie Stockstill and Jennifer Grubb were amazing. They stayed on stage throughout the whole performance and sang opera-style to the utmost (especially at the climax of the performance). They carried us through to the point where I couldn't take my eyes off of them. I was entranced by the goblin fantasy world. Movement director Derek Van Barham and lighting designer Chazz Malott brought the lighting that followed the actors throughout the production in a smooth, comprehensive way.
The details of the performance showed me that each step was carefully practiced, each item carefully left in an amazing perfectly planned way and that everything was intentional. There's no way it could work without it. Each prop was used and the curtains even were made into a river so that the story could continue in the same "house," but a different setting.
The intricate costumes were to the credit of costume designer Beth Laske-Miller. With masks sitting on the bookcase full of dolls in the scene, the transformation to goblins was easily done by donning the masks. While one actor bewitched us with song or ferocity in movement, the mask changed not only their appearance; their acting skills shone in each part of the production. Props designer Rocky Kolecke gave the girls much to work with and yet kept it simple, enhancing the performers themselves rather than too many or out-of-place props.
The quartet of musicians, also on the stage for the entire play, were an incredible guide for the musical portion of the performance. With Jeff Bouthiette on piano (as well as music director), Simeon Tsanev on violin, Alexander Ellsworth on cello and Cali Kasten on percussion, they worked flawlessly together to keep the music in the story. Bouthiette also played the part of a goblin (mask and all) as well as collaborator during the planning and rehearsal process. As music director and musician, he helped plan the introduction of the goblins (or talk of goblins) with the "whirly tube" (also known as a sound hose or corrugaphone), giving this ghostly (perhaps ghastly) sound to prepare the audience for an interesting treat coming their way. And yet, I felt it was missing something.
As I continued to do research on Goblin Market, I learned that there are many interpretations of this musical rendition and the poem itself. I felt like I have started a futile attempt at interpreting it "correctly." Leaving the theater, I was distracted because I felt I didn't understand the point of the musical. Maybe it was supposed to be up to interpretation, but to me, it was missing something.
There is an obvious erotic sexual awakening interpretation, childlike rhyming, scary goblins and deep transformations by the actors. There is no doubt that there was an immense amount of preparation and the implementation was effective. In looking at the script, I began to see more of the beauty of the production and perhaps the reason was to get you thinking. If that is the case, it worked. The opening night audience left quietly. Not many went up to the director Ed Rutherford in the first few minutes and the silence (perhaps awe?) was long.
I definitely feel like Goblin Market requires a lot of interpreting. Upon analyzing it, I appreciated the work. Tonight (Oct. 8), there will be an exclusive opportunity to see the show with Polly Pen, the musician and music collaborator, followed by a talkback and reception. Maybe she can give more insight to the various interpretations of Goblin Market. If you want an eerie connection, some amazing performers and if you enjoy musicals, this story theater production is one to see.
For 70 minutes of time, this would be great to talk about with friends and family afterwards and see how you interpret it.
Goblin Market is showing at The Pentagon at Collaboraction Theatre Company, Flat Irons Arts Building, 1579 N. Milwaukee Ave, 3rd floor. The performances will be through Oct. 31 Thursday-Saturday at 7:30pm; Sunday matinees are at 2pm. Tickets are $25 and can be purchased online. For more information, check out their website.