Theater review by Helen Shaw. St. Ann's Warehouse (Off Broadway). Written by Carl Grose. Music by Stu Barker. Dir. Emma Rice. With ensemble cast. 2hrs. One intermission.
The devil must have his due: The Kneehigh company's fractured fairy tale, The Wild Bride, is at its best whenever the Old Enemy is center stage. In creator-director Emma Rice's occasionally frustrating musical fable, Andrew Durand plays Lucifer as a showman in a fedora, a Mississippi Beelzebub with sharp banjo-pickin' skills. He runs amok with excellent moments, but then so does the entire absurdly gifted ensemble. The trouble lies in stitching the work's inventive bits together, and it's only Durand's sly, diabolic energy that makes us forget the inconsistencies between 'em.
Rice, creator of Kneehigh's Brief Encounter and The Red Shoes, loves to embroider on well-known stories. Here she adapts a brothers-Grimm tale, "The Handless Maiden," in which a girl (played by a trio of female performers) is promised to the devil, deemed too “pure” and then maimed by her father (Stuart Goodwin) to make her suitable. She goes through a mud-spattered primitive period (Patrycja Kujawska plays her as a simple-minded natural) and is then rescued—and promptly married—by a local prince (Goodwin again).
Contradiction abounds: This is a soi-disant feminist reconsideration, yet the near-mute bride is always done unto, never doing. Rice's poor-theater creativity fails her in establishing an organic whole, letting Goodwin build a brilliantly comic Irish prince in one scene only to abandon his characterization in the next. Luckily, we're constantly rescued by music, the house blues band interrupting with Stu Barker's blues-inflected, foot-stomping songs, led by Durand's down-home tenor. It's true that The Wild Bride's big picture never fully functions, but how lucky we are that the devil's always popping up where it counts: in the details.