Spoiler Alert: This review may contain spoilers. If you'd rather read a preview of the play, see our story here.
Just when you thought a puppet show was a family-friendly event, Chimera Theatre has tossed that notion out the window with an eerie adaptation of The Brothers Grimm tale, The Robber Bridegroom.
From the moment the betrothed couple took to the stage, it was apparent that this was not a happy wedding to be attending.
Whether the audience knew it or not, they were about to be placed in a situation that no one would dare wish for — to speak up or stay quiet.
Andrew Cooper, the artistic director of Chimera Theatre, has set up an immersive show for the audience from the moment they walk through the doors.
Guests were greeted warmly as if they were family joining in the marriage of two young love birds. But little did they know that things were about to become so grim that even the use of puppets couldn’t provide a sense of safety from the horrors on stage.
Was it a dream or reality? That was a question that many in the audience were left debating as the house lights came on.
Before the marriage between the Maid (Brittney Martens) and the Bridegroom (Maddison Hartloff), the audience is transported into the nightmare of the Bridegroom’s true murderous and cannibal self. The depiction of the murder of the little girl, all for a ring, was gruesome enough to have you hiding your eyes.
The arranged marriage of the two, based purely on the economic gain on the Maid’s side, ultimately went through, but it is the audience that can ultimately be the hero of this story.
“This is part show, part experiment,” Cooper said during Wednesday’s after-show discussion.
“You could have said something,” he said.
The Robber Bridegroom toyed with the audience’s own personal sense of morals.
The performance had two very different endings, potentially decided by the audience themselves.
“Part of what we were toying with was the feeling of ‘I should speak up,’ and that feeling of ‘Well, no one else is speaking up so I’ll stay quiet.’ It’s a thing that happens in real life and in theatre,” said co-director Melissa Purcha.
“It’s interesting to see how people reacted. It’s really hard to be the first person.”
The general audience consensus after the marriage ultimately carried on was that they wanted to intervene but didn’t feel that they held the power to actually step in and save the Maid.
Cooper and the rest of the Bridegroom team worked to subtly incorporate the audience interaction with call and actions in the live action that bookends the puppetry, with one audience member directly singled out to stand as witness for the Bridegroom as his ring bearer.
While these place markers were subtly slipped into the immersive show, the decision to intervene was up to the audience.
“How often in real life do you feel that you should stand up, but no one gives you permission? Or how often are people actively trying to stop you from standing up when things are wrong?” Cooper asked.
The Robber Bridegroom took what was already an eerie fairy tale to a new level by layering on the audience’s own consciousness.
These puppets are far from the friendly faces of the Muppets and had even skeptical audience members on the edge of their seats and scared.