We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.

Success! You're on the list.

Atlas Performing Arts Center: Lab II 

Remaining Performances (tickets available here):

Tuesday, July 14 at 6 p.m.
Friday, July 17 at 10:30 p.m.
Wednesday, July 22 at 6:15 p.m.
Saturday, July 25 at 8:45 p.m.

They say: The kiss didn’t work. The Beast didn’t change. In desperation he has run through the magic mirror to the Land of the Beasts. Can Belle return the Beast to the human world or will he succumb to his cruel and savage nature?

Sophia’s Take: Doug Wilder’s intriguing and largely successful Belle and the Beasties is aimed at that ilk of kids-at-heart who will spend a rainy day watching Willow for the 400th time. The type who first saw the Bog of Eternal Stench in Labyrinth, knew that it was supposed to be repulsive, but was more curious than disgusted; the type that still longs to catch a ride on one of those Landstriders from The Dark Crystal.

According to his notes, Wilder writes in the vein of these fantasy adventures because they defined his understanding of story structure and, to an extent, morality. He writes that his launching point was Beauty and the Beast because that fairy tale is about prejudice. I would have said his story’s primary themes are redemption and forgiveness. It’s to Wilder’s credit that his script is complex enough for an audience member to draw from it different, but equally worthy ideas.

Wilder’s populates his world with trolls, monsters and Rock Guardians. Creatures called Woks, screeching specters that remind me of the demons from Ghost, elicit fear in all. Wilder understands that no play will work, even a comedy set in our own world, without a real sense of danger. A Witch rules the land, whom we quickly learn decided the Beast wasn’t worthy of being returned to human form, even if Belle was willing to lock lips with him. The entire cast contributes lovely physical and vocal work to not only the development of the different fantasy species, but the credibility of each individual. Michael Rincon, as the Rock Guardian RG, deserves particular credit. It can’t be easy to walk on stage in a bodysuit and styrofoam, but you accept him as quickly as you would a Hoggle or a Chamberlain. Thomas Ellis also stands out as Amoro, who after a very Madmartigan-esque introduction, practically runs away with the whole play.

The costumes created by designer Melissa Kolb Meerdter are maybe some of the coolest you’ll see at Fringe. Her work is inspired, especially if you consider that she is probably laboring with limited resources. Just prior to the show, another lady and I encountered a character named The Harbinger in the hallway, headdress partially on, and we both jumped backward and shrieked with fright.

Speaking of The Harbinger, she is the best example of Wilder’s ability to write a morally complex character. As played by Jenna Lawrence, the creature that leads those fearsome Woks is articulate and reasonable. Like David Bowie‘s Goblin King, this villain is all-too-capable of claiming power over a protagonist.

The ones that could benefit from a little work are those protagonists. The script wouldn’t hurt from expanding a little on how this Belle fell in love with this Beast, because the cruel acts The Witch reveals about Beast’s past are pretty bad. Similarly, if Wilder does decide to develop his story further, the dance sequences towards the end could use an infusion of the type of strange but catchy music that Bowie gave to Labyrinth. I’d bet there are many composers who would embrace the challenge of giving these Beasties a groovy send off.

Without spoiling Wilder’s ending, I can say I found it emotionally satisfying, while recognizing I wasn’t getting the kind of tidy happiness our childhoods taught us to expect from our fantasy adventures. It’s a choice the adult in me appreciates.

See it if: You still root for Willow Ufgood and Jen the Gelfling to win, sigh when Sorsha switches allegiance, and scratch your head over the Knights and Knaves Riddle, just like when you were ten.

Skip it if: You saw Labyrinth and thought “Chilly(-ing) Down” with the Fire Gang and waltzing to “As the World Falls Down” were the dumbest ideas ever — this one’s not for you.

Image courtesy of Actors Repertory Theatre