In a world rife with reimaginings of fairy tales (TV’s Grimm and Once Upon a Time, plus dueling upcoming film adaptations of Snow White), The Sugar House at the Edge of the Wilderness is a perfectly adequate retelling of Hansel and Gretel. —
Rather oddly named adopted Asian siblings Han (Christopher Larkin) and Greta (Ali Ahn) are separated when Greta’s teenage rebellion—precipitated by the death of her adopted father and her adopted mother’s retreating into her grief—lands her in something like a juvenile corrections facility. There, therapist and sweetly manipulative Baba Yaga (Cindy Cheung, finding comic layers in her character) keeps the detainees on their best behavior with a combination of meds, threats and jars of candy.
Part of the problem with Sugar House is that playwright Carla Ching is intent on adding emotional content to her revision of Hansel and Gretel, giving audiences both the basic outline of the original story, plus a Dickensian childhood in China and then Chicago that involves multiple parental deaths. Sent by their adopted mother to New York City to stay with their aunt and uncle, that subplot finds Han acting out against them and the casual cruelty of Greta while she remains imprisoned.
Director Daniella Topol has staged the proceedings with an emphasis on otherworldiness, from the appearance of ghosts during a hallucination of Greta’s to a weird chalk stick used by Babba Yaga to sketch what ultimately look like pentagrams on the stage. Unfortunately, Topol and Ching have also grasped at cultural immediacy by adding tweeting to the story, projecting Han and Greta’s tweets on the evocative ruined-house-façade set from Clint Ramos. But because the set is uneven, the tweets are often unreadable, and the occasional film projections are likewise blurry.
Topol does get some solid performances from her cast, particularly April Matthis’ turn as Han and Greta’s aunt, Opal. But too much of The Sugar House at the Edge of the Wilderness is by-the-numbers, learning-to-love-your family stuff, lacking the darkness that keeps the Grimm Brothers’ stories eternally popular.
The Sugar House at the Edge of the Wilderness
Through Dec. 4, Connelly Theater, 220 E. 4th St. (betw. Aves A & B), www.ma-yitheatre.org; $25.