The children's poem becomes a seasonally appropriate musical for two voices.
Don’t buy fruit from goblins, kids. That should probably go without saying, but Christina Rossetti’s classic children’s poem, first published in 1862, centers around someone doing just that. Two sisters, Laura and Lizzie, living alone in the woods, often gather water from a brook near a market run by goblins. Laura buys some of the fruit, paying for it with a lock of her golden hair, and soon after eating it finds herself on death’s door. It’s up to Lizzie to return to the goblins and save her sister. The story recalls Eve and the forbidden apple while also laying on some possible, and often speculated upon, homoerotic overtones.
In 1985 the poem was adapted into a two-woman musical by actresses Polly Pen and Peggy Harmon. That show receives a fine production here courtesy of Black Button Eyes Productions. It’s the perfect choice for those who prefer seasonal Halloween fare of a more classical, high-minded flavor.
Directed by Ed Rutherford, the show features Stephanie Stockstill as Laura and Jennifer T. Grubb as Lizzie. The piece's score is operatic and at times quite complex. These two sing it beautifully. What’s more, they have a fantastic rapport with each other. The sisters’ close, cloistered relationship comes through with every note.
It’s a deliberately minimalist musical, but still one wishes for a bit more atmosphere in the design; at times the whole thing can feel a bit bare and stuffy. Still, the performances deliver, as does the accompanying music. What matters most rings true.
Black Button Eyes Productions at Collaboraction. Music by Polly Pen. Book and lyrics by Pen and Peggy Harmon. Directed by Ed Rutherford. With Jennifer T. Grubb, Stephanie Stockstill. Running time: 1hr 10mins; no intermission.