I used to pride myself on a pretty wide knowledge of fairy tales and mythology. No more. Yesterday, I went to see Son of Semele Theater’s current production of “What the Moon Saw” or “I Only Appear To Be Dead” by Stephanie Fleischmann. “Hans Christian Andersen encounters a post-9/11 world,” the tag-line reads. What does it say about me, or the play, that afterwards I had to do a little online research to refresh my memory of the fairy tales I thought I knew?
For all of its imaginative and colorful production, the play deliberately moves audience towards disorientation, an uncertain relationship to both the original tales and their re-working.
Fleischmann depicts the farcical nature of life that is revealed when our deepest narratives have been combusted. In Act 1, a consummate story-teller (Hans Christian Anderson) looks for recognition in a world severed from the most basic assumptions about the dignity of life. What happens to our stories, our milestones, and meaning carriers, after an event like 9/11? How does one experience quests for love and coming of age stories in a world that has been disrupted by terrorism and death? In Fleishmann’s version of The Little Mermaid, the young dreamer needs to kiss the storyteller in order to have eternal life, but. . . isn’t able to.
This distressing enactment of undeniable trauma to collective story is followed poignantly, sadly, and sweetly by the opening scene of Act 2 where the writing is musical and luminous and Fleischmann intermingles figures from reality and from storybooks. A firefighter, in the midst of emergency response has reveries regarding the atomic nature of reality, while a match girl is heartbreakingly transparent and vulnerable in her persistence to light a fire. . .Captured in both is the intensity of pain and its ability to make us more real.
Go see the show if you’d like to see theater do what only theater can do:
Present to us–in the flesh–deeper meanings and better outcomes.
Son of Semele presents:
What the Moon Saw or “I Only Appear To Be Dead”
by Stephanie Fleischmann
directed by Matthew McCray
3301 Beverly Boulevard
Los Angeles, 90004