You know that thing when you go to a museum and you find an abstract painting: the art looks really splotchy and odd, but that’s okay because you’re in a museum and open to new things. Then out of nowhere some guy goes, “This is art? My kid could do better than this!” You roll your eyes because you know he doesn’t get it, but secretly you’re not sure if you get it either. When watching Into the Darkness I was both guys.
On face value, Into the Darkness is two unrelated, one-acts fairy tales. In the first we see a princess overcome a curse with the help of a fool. In the second, we watch a girl try to save her friend from a troll. The fairy tales feature puppetry, song, and, in the second tale, a pretty good dance number near the end. The show leaves you with a strange sense of ambivalence as to what you just watched. On the one hand, these fairy tales clearly demonstrate the high level of imagination and wonder that you expect from the genre. On the other hand, since they’re contained in two unrelated one-acts, you have to overanalyze in order to take something away from the show.
It feels like a challenge, to be honest. Whether that is good or bad depends on you. Into the Darkness doesn’t feel like it holds any moral or metaphor because the stories are so short. There isn’t much sense of definition around the ideas because there isn’t enough to contrast anything against. You leave with more questions than answers. Is the princess’s curse saying anything about superficiality? Or is her idea of love just as superficial with its necessity of danger? What does the girl rescuing her friend mean? That she likes her friend? Then why was she a bear? None of these questions can be answered as the play takes more time to establish style and design than cathartic release. This is a real disappointment, because it’s look is quite good. But no aesthetic is worth sacrificing storytelling.
The fairy tales are very refined in their delivery. In the music, the puppetry, the costuming, even the blocking, there is a lavish attention to detail; the juxtaposition of so much intentionality feels at odds with the seemingly limited stories. The aperitif one-acts leave you more hungry than satiated. This is really disappointing because there is so much talent to be enjoyed, especially the puppetry.
Puppetry is heavily featured in both acts and it is really good. These aren’t run of the mill hand for mouth Sesame Street puppets; these are gnarly rod puppets that look incredible. Puppet Designer and Director David Hanzal gives his cast of characters, both real and puppet, well-known archetypes to follow and then fills them with personality. We can literally see his personality in the design of the puppets. And what makes them even better are the puppeteers behind them. Puppets like the king in act-one and the wind in act-two are emoted with so much delicacy you’ll laugh and awe respectively.
Into the Darkness shows us fairy tales that are constructed with such grace you want to see more and more. With puppetry that enthralls, the audience is entertained with laughs and wonder. Unfortunately, because of the show’s construction, it’s hard to say why they did what they did. What should have been a declaration comes off as a whisper that we’re not sure we heard.