There's a reason fairy tales have been plumbed for art's sake so deeply: they're bottomless.
Murky with our fears, desires and other shadowy drives, the stories of the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen and the like consist of just the sort of muck in which artists love to play. Shaking the Tree's The Tripping Point, directed by Samantha Van Der Merwe as part of the Fertile Ground festival, lets eight playwrights run wild in the stuff—yet the production that emerges is almost immaculate.
In this “exhibition of fairy tale installations,” audience members move from partitioned space to partitioned space to watch eight approximately 10-minute-long monologues, each based on a different story and penned by a different playwright. It's fun—fast-paced without being frivolous. The performance spaces, meticulously designed by Sheri Earnhart, are tiny; this, along with the fact that the audience is divided among eight performances, makes the monologues intimate affairs, experienced only feet from the actor and shared with just a handful of fellow attendees.
Tripping Point's writers use their fairy tales less as outlines than as prompts, thematic starting points from which they proceed in very different directions. Nick Zagone's “KingDowm” (based on the little-known Grimm tale “Iron Hans”) grapples with masculinity; “To Cape,” Matthew B. Krebski's take on “Little Red Riding Hood,” tackles sex and power (and features a vigorous performance from Gavin Hoffman); and Andrea Stolowitz's “The Red Shoes” treats the age-old individual-vs.-society conflict. There's even a wordless “monologue,” Patrick Wohlmut's “Bluebeard”; it's a sober meditation on passionate violence played with quiet power by Beth Summers.
Sometimes not quite lucid and always fleeting, these dreamlike pieces speak to something that's beyond intellect, deeply personal. As a result, not every one hits home for every viewer. Even then, however, this much is clear: Everybody behind The Tripping Point has approached their source material with earnestness, imagination and ability.
See it: Shaking the Tree Studio, 1407 SE Stark St., 235-0635. 7 pm Thursdays-Fridays, 2 and 7 pm Saturdays, 2 pm Sundays through Feb. 5. $15-$17.