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Crafty Witchcraft and Stagecraft: And Now for Something Completely Different

Ed Rampell: What makes this West Coast premiere so unusual is how it combines up-to-date technology with timeless imagination to create a new type of stagemanship to tell this mythic story.
rose rime

my Rapp as Rose, Brian Brennan as Jimmy, Mandi Moss as Molly, Aaron Mendelson as Nolan, Sean Faye as Charlie, Allison Reeves as Gracie, Bart Tangredi as Randal, Desiree Mee Jung as Dorothea, Corinne Chooey as Evelyn. Photos by Jessica Sherman Photography

ROSE AND THE RIME Theatre Review

This critic sees about one play per week and once in a great while I stumble upon something that, as Monty Python aptly put it, is completely different from anything else I’ve seen onstage. Sacred Fools’ production of Rose and the Rime belongs to this rarefied, select group of totally unique shows.

rose rime

Desiree Mee Jung as Rime Witch.

Co-written by Nathan Allen, Chris Mathews and Jake Minton of The House of Theatre of Chicago, Rime is a fairy tale featuring a spunky young female character (Amy Rapp as Rose) raised by a doting uncle (Andy Hirsch as Roger), a witch (Desiree Mee Jung), simple townsfolk and more. But what makes this West Coast premiere so unusual is how it combines up-to-date technology with timeless imagination to create a new type of stagemanship to tell this mythic story.

Immediately upon entering the Mainstage Theater at Sacred Fools’ relatively new space one is struck by the set. Several 5 foot 9 inch high thingamajigs loom upon the stage, looking like the monoliths in 2001: A Space Odyssey. They are actually wooden-framed video screens for rear projections of motion graphics and animation that do much to unfold the fable, as Rose daringly embarks on her own odyssey, venturing forth from the perpetually frozen village of Radio Falls. (None of the imagery is photographic and realistic per se.)

All this is the handiwork of Hillary Bauman, who is credited in the Footlights program as Production & Scenic Designer/Projection and Illustrator/Scenic Painter. But as far as this reviewer is concerned, Bauman - who has collaborated with many of L.A.’s leading theater companies and venues, including Rogue Machine, Boston Court, Antaeus, Skylight, LATC, etc. - should actually receive top billing as star of the show. Bauman’s yeoman work, visual sensibility and her rendering of it bestows Rime’s singular look upon this one act play, performed sans intermission. Aided by Motion Graphics Designer Chris Hutchings, Bauman has created a form that is perfectly synchronized to the saga’s magical content. (See: www.thechromabear.com/.)

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The folk tale, adeptly directed by Jacob Sidney, also includes onstage touches such as snowflakes, puppets (designed by Miles Taber), sleighs mounted on skateboards, shortwave radios, actors ringing bells onstage (Crystal Keith is Musical Director) and more. All this is enhanced by Bauman’s wizardry, giving one the feeling that experiencing Rime is akin to walking into an animated fairy tale, such as, say, Disney’s Frozen. With the difference being, of course, that Rime is not two-dimensional, but rather performed live with a cast of very vivacious actors.

rose rime

Allison Reeves as Gracie, Desiree Mee Jung as Dorothea, Aaron Mendelson as Nolan, Bart Tangredi as Randal, Corinne Chooey as Evelyn, Mandi Moss as Molly, Sean Faye as Charlie.

Given the animation ambiance of Rime it may be appropriate for children, and there were some tykes at the sold out premiere. But parents should be forewarned that like many folk tales, full-length cartoons, etc., the story does have its grim (and Grimm Brothers) twists and turns. [Plot Spoiler Alert: Even in Bambi the poor deer’s mother is shot.] However, Rime does seem like a fairy tale more for the grown-ups than the kiddies, and for those theatergoers who prefer their shows to go off the beaten track.

Like the Ahmanson’s recent production of the musical adaptation of the French film Amelie, Rime raises modern stagecraft and the possibilities of live theater to new levels. It points the direction towards where theater can go in the high tech, computerized 21st century. Sacred Fools has long been, along with Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum and Rogue Machine, among this critic’s favorite theater companies, so it’s not surprising that this cutting edge troupe is expanding the stage’s boundaries. Speaking of which, this was my first time at the Fools’ new multi-venue theater space since they moved closer to Theatre Row, and I was very happy to enjoy the new digs and to reacquaint myself with an old friend, and to see this ship of Fools is still pushing theater’s envelope.

Rose and the Rime is being performed through Feb. 25 on Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m., with Sunday matinees on Feb. 12 and 19 at 3:00 p.m. at the Sacred Fools Mainstage Theater, 1076 Lillian Way, Hollywood, CA 90038. For more info: (310)281-8337; www.sacredfools.org/.

Ed Rampell

Ed Rampell