Once upon a time, there was a play. And in this play, presented by Also Known As Theatre, there was a girl. And a forest. And a grandmother. And a wolf.
Stephen Spotswood’s In the Forest, She Grew Fangs, directed by Kelly Smith, tries to play off this classic scenario. A girl who wears a lot of red meets a wolf, deep in the forest. But, as Lucy (Kira Compton) explains at the start of the show, In the Forest, She Grew Fangs is looking to tell this story in a very different way.
The show starts with Lucy, a high school outcast, simply existing her way through life. She lives with her grandmother Ruth (Karen Dervin) in a double-wide trailer in a small town in the woods.
At night, Lucy goes on walks into the forest, submerging herself in an ice-cold lake, slipping down into the depths only to struggle up to the surface each time. And life goes on like this for a while. Most of her lines, and most of the lines of the play, are direct addresses to the audience. The characters monologue and shoot asides to the audience to explain their thoughts, feelings, and actions. Lucy explains that she used to be “somebody” at school, or at least not “nobody.” Before her mother left (and her father started working for long periods of time away from home), Lucy felt like someone. Now, she’s the main character in this story, but a part of the scenery in the lives of everyone else.
That is, until Jenny (Branwyn Ritchie) arrives at school. A new and beautiful girl from out of town, she’s on her way out of the forest before she even arrives. Dressed always in red (wink, wink), Jenny’s parents are out of the picture. She is followed and fantasized about by a boy named Robin (Dylan C. Wack), who goes by Hunter (it’s starting to make sense now, isn’t it?).
Where In the Forest, She Grew Fangs takes a turn is on one of Lucy’s nightly dives into the cold dark water. Jenny is in the forest and sees her take the plunge. She dives in after her and pulls her back up on shore.
From this point on, In the Forest, She Grew Fangs becomes both a more realized version of a “wolf” story, as Lucy “dreams” of killing local animals in her sleep and a more allegorical version of sexuality. If that sounds odd, it’s because it is—at least in the way the play presents it. Sexuality as a stand in for some hidden beast in a developing hormonal body is an interesting idea, but it comes off as a little forced and disingenuous.
And as Jenny’s role as a sidelined Red Riding Hood, Ruth’s role as the sick grandmother, Hunter’s role as… well… the hunter, and Lucy’s role as the Big Bad Wolf materialize, In the Forest, She Grew Fangs feels less like a theatrical production and more like a hollow fairy tale. Locker rooms, crushes, stories of spin the bottle, and school dances make the play into a high school drama instead of a novel and thoughtful reimagining of a classic tale.
The payoff seems to keep building and building through this 90-minute show, but it never comes. Sure, there is a climax and things happen, but it feels like too little, too late. By that point, the actions of the characters don’t feel genuine or true. Instead, they are just the next step to get the show to its conclusion.
The acting, and the set design (Maggie Kearnan) are very good throughout; there just isn’t enough there to prop up this story.
IN THE FOREST, SHE GREW FANGS. 11.16–12.2. CALDERWOOD PAVILION AT THE BOSTON CENTER FOR THE ARTS, 527 TREMONT ST., BOSTON.