ShadowApe Theatre Company has gained the reputation not only for being the best theater company in town, but the most experimental. I say that I was disappointed in their latest offering, Transformations, only because I go into a ShadowApe show with such high expectations. They reached a plateau with Gorey Stories (2001, 2002 and 2006), and now it seems they are dogged by it — at least to us critics.
A little too loose, a little too benign, Transformations just wasn’t what I expected from ShadowApe. Knowing nothing of Anne Sexton’s work (her poems are what ShadowApe based the show on) except that the pieces were fairy tales from an alternative perspective, I was surprised that so many of them followed either the traditional telling or the original version (such as in “Cinderella,” where the stepsisters disfigure their feet to fit into the slipper, something the modern stories chose to leave out). I didn’t feel the overtly feminist perspective Sexton’s work is known for.
Overall, the show just wasn’t dark enough for me.
ShadowApe is also famous for their intricate stage work, such as loops and meticulous movement. After beginning with some intriguing uses of a silver hula-hoop in “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves” — the dwarves represented by seven hotdog marionettes — the blocking became more traditional. While modern dance-like movement is still used in places, it is nowhere as predominant as in previous ShadowApe performances. I missed it.
A neat video effect is used to simulate the prince climbing Rapunzel’s hair and Robert K. Johansen makes a darling Rumpelstiltskin. Constance Macy and Jen Johansen are perfect mirror images of each other in “Snow White.” But other segments are just annoying, such as the integration of the homeless, mentally ill man with the story “Iron Hans” or the Dick Tracy theme for “The 12 Dancing Princesses.” Closing with “Briar Rose,” sexual abuse is touched upon, but not explored. In fact, deeper exploration of the works seemed to be lacking in several stories. Often, lines are rushed, negating the nuance of the prose and poetry. Even the set and lighting design by Robert and Ryan Koharchik (respectively) wasn’t up to par. Could this be the show that questions the viability of ShadowApe’s collective direction, instead of relying on a single person’s vision?
Bear in mind, ShadowApe is still the most interesting local theater we have, but when you are the best, people demand more.
Transformations continues this weekend, Thursday-Sunday at Butler University’s Lilly Theatre. Go to www.shadowape.com for tickets, $25, and information.