‘Tales from the Dark’ puts a spin on classic fairy tales
I didn’t know what I was in for when I walked into the Village Black Box theater on Saturday night for All Student Theatre’s “Tales from the Dark.” I expected something in line with the Halloween season—spooky, a bit of suspense with a dash of comedy thrown in.
As All Student Theatre (AST) Events Chair and author of the play senior Claire Kozak stated in her author’s note, “These aren’t the fairy tales you remember.” She was right.
From the beginning, “Tales from the Dark” is a wacky ride. The pre-show tunes contained all the Halloween classics (“Thriller,” “The Monster Mash,” etc), but quickly slid into the bizarre with titles like “Witch Doctor” and finally, “All I Want For Christmas Is You.” You might think that, with this kind of introduction, I would have been prepared for what was to come. You would be wrong.
The “stage” was merely an empty area in the center of a large pile of blankets and pillows on which audience members reclined. A few strings of fairy lights hung overhead provided the only scenery. The actors wore black T-shirts and leggings under their costumes, and weren’t subtle about it—T-shirts protruded above strapless dresses, leggings stuck out from under skirts and so on. During the Ursula skit, the background fish costumes were printed photographs of tropical fish taped to the actors’ shirts.
This wasn’t reflecting any laziness on AST’s part. Rather, the slapdash scenery and costumes, the way almost every character read their lines from a black three-ring binder and the constant breaking of the practically nonexistent fourth wall were there to further the play’s highest purpose: humor.
“You don’t need to know my name, unless you don’t like the show, in which case it’s Andrew Martin,” quipped Kozak—who also acted as the MC—near the start of the show, and after that, the jokes never stopped.
I’m sure you’ve heard of fairy tale reimaginings. In this day and age, who hasn’t? But “Tales from the Dark” is nothing like them. Sure, we all know of the new “Maleficent” movies, but had you heard of Cinderella being a shoe-shopping addict enabled by a traveling shoe salesman she calls Fairy Godmother, who only speaks in puns? What about Ariel’s “beautiful” voice causing several of the background fish to fall over dead as she screeched “All I Want For Christmas Is You” at the top of her lungs with all the enthusiasm and talent of a six-year-old with a cold?
Kozak guided the audience through a series of four such stories, beginning with Bluebeard, a solitary pirate constantly besieged—and eventually murdered—by gold-digging, real estate agent wives. Next we moved on to the story of Ursula. I could believe when she said she was doing a favor by taking Ariel’s voice—but maybe not by fusing her with Sebastian to give her crab legs instead of human ones. Following that, even though Little Red’s Soundcloud raps were censored for our protection, the Big Bad Wolf’s desire for her to shut up was perfectly understandable. And the evening was capped off with Cinderella’s fluffy shark slippers and their rather unfortunate consequences involving one angry injured prince and two scapegoat stepsisters.
“Tales from the Dark” is a very short play. Running at about 45 minutes, I left wanting more. True, there are only so many fairy tales you can flip on their heads before it becomes repetitive. But I would have happily sat through a couple more.
Still, that didn’t stop me from cheering when the cast came back on to take their bows. As they stepped onstage, the first notes of “[Actual Cannibal] Shia LaBeouf” started to play, and as they bowed, most of the audience shouted out lines. In between cheers were exclamations of “but your leg! Ah! It’s caught in a bear trap!” and as the audience filed out of the theater, several people paused to shout “Wait! He isn’t dead Shia surprise!”
This constant audience interaction and self-deprecating corniness is most of the appeal of “Tales from the Dark.” And I loved it. That being said, I recognize that this show wasn’t for everyone. If you came to the show expecting something serious, something scary or even something that didn’t feel like a strung-together collection of mildly dirty jokes and slapstick humor, you probably didn’t enjoy it. If you don’t know the words to “[Actual Cannibal] Shia LaBeouf” almost a decade after the meme’s popularity, or if you don’t like bad puns, this isn’t a play I would recommend.
At times, the show felt like too much. Not all of the acting was perfect. Most of the plots were contrived. And that’s why I loved it—Halloween is full of spooky stories. Sometimes, you just have to have fun, and if there’s one thing “Tales from the Dark” is, it’s fun.