Scary Stories Lurk in the Wings


It may sound pretty and all when Frank Sinatra sings, “Fairy tales can come true, it can happen to you,” but odds are, it would be pretty horrific in practice. Don’t get lulled by the Disneyfied versions; the original versions of fairy tales are usually scary as heck. 

That’s one of many things that come across beautifully in The Secret in the Wings, the dreamlike and convoluted play by Mary Zimmerman playing at Contra Costa Civic Theatre. Zimmerman is a master at weaving together folkloric threads into a rich and strange tapestry, and in this piece she spins one disturbing, obscure folk tale after another, overlapping them and bringing them together in fresh and unexpected ways. There are ogres, blinded queens, a princess who never laughs, sons turned into swans, incest and cannibalism, and all sorts of unwholesome things. It’s a long way from the Magic Kingdom.

The Secret in the Wings debuted way back in 1991 at Chicago’s Lookingglass Theatre Company, Zimmerman’s home base. Like many of Zimmerman’s works (such as Metamorphoses, Argonautika, and The Arabian Nights), it played Berkeley Repertory Theatre in a luminous production directed by the playwright, but not until 2004. It’s a delightfully challenging choice for the El Cerrito community theater, and it’s a treat for local audiences to get a chance to see the play again. Jack Phillips, who staged A Child’s Christmas in Wales for CCCT in 2013, returns to direct this production.

The Secret in the Wings, Feb. 16-March 11, Fri., Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 2 p.m., Contra Costa Civic Theatre, 951 Pomona Ave., El Cerrito, $11-$30, 510-524-9012,

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