The Hans Christian Andersen story of the haunted shoes that won’t come off the young woman wearing them has been given a bedazzling solo stage rendition by Kimberly Richardson as the Young Girl at Open Eye Figure Theatre. This is not, nor is it meant to be, a tightly focused script. In essence, the story is told in a stream-of-consciousness way with several characters, real and imagined.
Richardson’s breadth of vocal variations throughout is uniquely masterful. Moreover, she unifies that vocal prowess with physical movement that kinetically pulses, stretches, contorts, and flows. The result is a highly concentrated tour de force that moves with comic velocity and ricochets with mercurial electricity throughout a woman’s paranoid subconscious. Indeed, this is a courageously miraculous portrayal.
One of the show’s signature images is of the Young Girl on the tracks of an oncoming train. Combined with Bill Healy’s spectral lighting and the mystically flowing contour of Richardson’s body, it is simply one of the great images I’ve seen in contemporary theater.
The tenement studio apartment setting is decoratively shabby and tatty, designed by the man who also directed and conceived the piece, Joel Sass. An air duct and blast furnace evoke actual personalities. Sean Healy’s sound design is multiplex in an array of sound choices that richly enhance the show’s numerous quick moving actions. Morgan Potter’s astute costumes signify a gangster-run subculture. You get the feeling that hit men are on the verge of breaking in on stage. It’s as if we’ve stepped into a vintage film by Jules Dassin or Edward Dmytryk.
All technical elements and Richardson’s performance luminously evoke this film noir-ish effect, plunging the show’s fairy tale origins into the dingy, underworld reminiscent of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. Sass and Richardson’s The Red Shoes is a shining example of an adaptation that honors the original while breaking new ground in its own right.
The Red Shoes is a co-production of Open Eye and the Oddfellows Collective. It wistfully recalls Sass’s memorably artful directorial stamp from his days as the Mary Worth Theatre’s founding artistic director. He definitely still has the magic touch. Not to be missed.