The better to eat you with

by Amy Danielson


You know how gossip gets around: The story always changes a little from one person to the next. The same is true with storytelling: After many years of oral tradition, a story gets warped and bent until it becomes an altered version of the original.

In 15 Head’s production of Red/Instructions to Follow (directed by Jon Micheels Leiseth), the company follows the histories of four fairy tales, retelling several different versions of each with the purpose of exposing multiple layers of meaning behind these tales.

The stage set is simple: a few lifts, suspended by ropes and attached by wooden planks give dimension to the set. Dark images of trees cover a screen backdrop. Illuminated cast members behind the screen create a spooky effect during segments based on the story of Sleeping Beauty.

The show begins with Little Red Riding Hood’s mother preparing her for the journey to Grandmother’s house. She gives Red a stern warning, including a laundry list of characters to avoid on the way: pixies, nixies, tradespeople, talking animals and other unsavory types.

The play follows no clear narrative. Instead, the show moves from a segment of one tale (let’s say Sleeping Beauty) to a segment of another (Jack and the beanstalk, as an example) throughout the entirety of the show. Versions of Cinderella play throughout the production, each considerably different from the others, while Little Red Riding Hood and Jack and the Beanstalk are told with three variations of the main characters onstage at the same time. For example, three Red Riding Hoods travel to Grandmother’s house, each simultaneously narrating from different versions of the tale along the way.

The variations of the fairy tales reveal changes based on cultural influences. In one version of Cinderella, her father is absent, while in another he is neglectful. However, some cultural ideals are universal: The tales all include a revelation that causes the heroine (not always named Cinderella) to finally be accepted. In one version, the prince ponders an ownerless shoe following the ball, speaking his thoughts aloud: “If the foundation is so lovely, what must the house be like?”

These tales are consistently told from the stepsisters’ point of view; however, the sisters are not always evil. In one of the variations, they treat Cinderella almost as an equal, yet in another version one stepsister, in a fit of jealousy, asks Cinderella “Should I cover you with swollen bruises?”

While we aren’t given the complete tales, we are allowed the opportunity to examine why these tales have been shaped in so many different waysñfrequently so unlike what we remember reading as children.


Red/Instructions to Follow plays through November 17 at the Red Eye, (612) 636-6331.