Sunday, October 17, 2021

"The Red Shoes" at Open Eye Theatre

In 2017, Open Eye Theatre premiered The Red Shoes, inspired by the Hans Christian Andersen story of the vain little girl with pretty red shoes cursed so that her shoes will never stop dancing. The show also "draws inspiration and influences from the vintage detective novels of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, case studies of amnesia and multiple personality, and black and white film noir movies of the 1940s" (per director and co-writer Joel Sass, along with Kimberly Richardson). They were all set to remount it in March of 2020, when the pandemic shut down all live performance. Happily, a year and a half later, it is opening their live in-person 2021-2022 season in their charming and intimate space in South Minneapolis. Also happily but not surprisingly, The Red Shoes is still "something so curious and unique, odd and chilling, inventive and charming, it's thoroughly captivating from start to finish." And perhaps even more relevant and relatable after we've all spent so much time trapped inside our homes with only our own thoughts and imagination to fill the time and space.

What follows is my review from the 2017 production.

The heroine of this Red Shoes adaptation is not a vain little girl, but rather a shut-in who's afraid to leave her apartment, or let anyone in, and is investigating the disappearance of another woman who once lived there. She was hit by a train. Or fell from a roof. Or hung herself. Or maybe all three. The woman receives a few visitors and packages, tells herself stories using an adorable tiny set and puppets, and has a bulletin board filled with scraps, photos, and notes like "push" and "kill" (think Season 1 Carrie Mathison). If you're looking for a linear narrative, look elsewhere. This show is a mish-mash of wordless scenes, puppet shows, hallucinations, recollections. I'm still not entirely clear what happened to whom and when, but I happily went along for the ride.

photo by Mark VanCleave
Kimberly Richardson, adept at physical transformation, is the sole (visible) performer and plays at least five characters (and wears at least six different pairs of red shoes, from roller skates to stilletos). In addition to the woman in the apartment, she's also the missing woman, the landlady, a newsboy, and a mysterious woman in a trench coat whose dialogue mostly consists of muttering "Scheisse" (my personal favorite swear word). One character exits one side of the stage followed by the entrance of another character on the opposite side of the stage, leading to many "how'd they do that?" stage magic moments. How they did that is with three backstage performers (Sabrin Diehl, Noah Sommers Haas, Kalen Rainbow Kier) manipulating props, casting shadows, and creating misdirection.

photo by Mark VanCleave
The design of the show is inseparable from the performance, perhaps moreso than I've ever experienced. Director Joel Sass also designed the set and props (natch), and everything is incredibly detailed and rustically charming. There's a heck of a lot of choreography that goes into making sure everything is where it's supposed to be and does what it's supposed to do, and Kimberly and the other performers pull it off beautifully, even when things don't go exactly as planned. This is one of those shows that would be just as fun to watch from backstage. Lighting (Bill Healey) and sound (Sean Healey) are also intricately related, with blinding flashes and recorded sounds coming from specific parts of the stage. Morgan Potter's costumes fulfill the task of instantly defining character and being easy to get into and out of quickly. All of the elements of design and performance come together to create the magic of the experience.

The utterly unique and magical The Red Shoes continues at Open Eye Figure Theatre through October 31.