Nothing says "children's fairy tale" like a story featuring insane jealousy, murder, and unintentional cannibalism.
The Juniper Tree has all three. The Grimm fairy tale has come back to life at Open Eye Figure Theatre, and it's a funny absolute delight. No, honestly.
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This is the second time creator and Open Eye mad genius Michael Sommers has visited this particular tale. Twenty years ago, he crafted a version for Theatre de la Jeune Lune. This time, it's at Open Eye's space, but Jeune Lune vet Robert Rosen is back for the ride.
He plays an evil stepmother who wreaks havoc on a simple family. But let's go back a few steps. We have a simple German couple who long for little... except for a son. The dying wife prays for a son, and is gifted with one before she dies. After some time, the father marries Madame Traum.
She hates the pale boy and, after her daughter is born, favors her. This leads to the aforementioned jealousy/death/cannibalism bit (the father has a particular love of black pudding) and a final magical journey that involves the boy's bone and the family's special juniper tree.
As, ahem, grim as this all sounds, Sommers and crew present it with absolute joyful abandon. With his flame-top wig and fiery red dress, Rosen is every bit the over-the-top evil stepmother of fairy tales. Tara Loper as the boy's white-faced spirit bridges the gap between the madcap action and the dreamier, more spiritual asides of the piece. A team of puppeteers bring the two children, the juniper, tree and the rest of the world to life.
Aided by Michael Koerner's bouncy score and the talents of the small orchestra (including a costumed Rosen on tuba), even the darkest moments of the play have a lot of air. (The happy ending also doesn't hurt.)
IF YOU GO:
The Juniper Tree Through November 22 Open Eye Figure Theatre 506 E. 24th St., Minneapolis $10-$15 For more information, call 612.874.6338 or visit online.