March 12, 2012

KC Stage

A Fairy Tale for Grownups
by Greg Boyle

The Unicorn Theatre is currently presenting the world premiere production of Hungry by Lia Romero. Flyers for it left me ambivalent, since it claimed to be a comedy about eating disorders. I feared that I would be in for a theatre version of a chick flick — predictable with facile emotional content and a too-easy resolution. What I had forgotten was that this was the Unicorn. I shouldn't have been concerned. Within moments of the lights coming up, all my worries had vanished.

 


Amy, played by Dina Thomas, gets a gift of diet pills from Bianca, played by Chioma Anyanwu. (photo courtesy of the Unicorn Theatre)

 

Author Romero has constructed a hilarious modern fairytale, true to the prototypes of the genre. One shouldn't picture happy bunnies and prancing fawns when thinking of fairytales. Bunnies and fawns are merely children's bedtime stories. They don't belong in the same category as the best offerings of Mother Goose or the Brothers Grimm. Genuine fairy tales abound with dark meaning and psychosexual overtones that subconsciously induce children to think about the big wide world outside their safe little homes.

Hungry features a mythological beast, which is half man, half bull, and an eater of human flesh. The fact that Jeff Smith as Minotaur makes him seem to be a safe little darling, wordlessly stealing scene after scene with his amazingly varied grunts and body language, is all the more remarkable. His main keeper, Amy, played by Dina Thomas, is an apparently normal high school sophomore, struggling to find her own way amidst a tangle of peer pressure, her mother's expectations, and a father who's not around very much.

Cynthia Levin directs Thomas and Chioma Anyanwu, as Amy's best friend, to an often-bawdy version of Laverne and Shirley. From the opening scene their dialogue and behaviors are recognizable from teenagers you know, but at the same time, over the top. Katie Gilchrist plays Amy's mother as overtly sensual. Little character bits like Anyanwu's goofy wig and Gilchrist's hilarious wiggle keep the action onstage light even up to the last moment, when everything changes.

Hats off to set designer Laura L. Burkhart who has put together a cartoon-like set that notifies us immediately that the play will not take place in ordinary reality. Costume designer Jon Fulton Adams has created a Minotaur costume that looks as surprisingly real as a Minotaur can possibly look, and gives the audience ample opportunity to appreciate the hard work Jeff Smith has obviously put in to sculpt his body.

It is the ending of the play that presents an enigma. The Minotaur as a projection of Amy's frustrated rage, turned loose by an overdose of diet pills, wreaks havoc in her life. Yet rather than embark on some self-determined path, Amy chooses to follow the path set by her mother, whose influence she has just destroyed. I was left confused.

Hungry seems lightweight because of its quick, breezy presentation, but it has real heft. It was great fun to watch and might be even more fun to debate. The Unicorn should consider having an after-performance discussion with the audience, to see what they think would happen next in the life of the heroine.

Hungry is at the Unicorn Theatre, 3628 Main Street in Kansas City, through March 18. For tickets, call the box office at 816-531-PLAY, or go online at www.UnicornTheatre.org.

Greg Boyle can be reached at gbboyle@kc.rr.com.