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In Mary Zimmerman's 'Secret in the Wings,' fairy tales with decidedly adult chills

In Mary Zimmerman's 'Secret in the Wings,' fairy tales with decidedly adult chills
Audrey Flegel, left, Leslie Murphy and Katie Pelensky in Coeurage Theatre Company's production of Mary Zimmerman's "The Secret in the Wings." (John Klopping)

From the frozen brutality of Grimm's collected stories to the sun-dappled violence of Italo Calvino's folk yarns, fairy tales could be construed not so much as bedtime diversions for children but as cautionary tales of horrors in the adult world.

Mary Zimmerman, most noted for "Metamorphoses," her Tony-winning recycling of Ovid's myths, doesn't short-change the horror in "The Secret in the Wings," a collection of fairy tales presented by the Coeurage Theatre Company at the Lankershim Arts Center. In fact, although occasionally ameliorated by humor, Zimmerman's montage is so loaded with dread, calamity and violence that tots would be well advised to give it a wide berth.

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A framing device ingeniously sets the scene, as thoughtless parents leave their horrified daughter Audrey (Audrey Flegel) in the care of an Ogre (Leon Russom) while they rush off for an engagement. In between weirdly exhorting Audrey to marry him, the Ogre regales her with stories.

In a typically gruesome offering, three pregnant queens, stranded on a mountainside, yield their eyes to an intermediary — sacrifices to a malignant nursemaid who has ordered them murdered. Two of the queens, maddened by hunger, later cannibalize their sons and are closing in on the third newborn when the action suddenly cuts away.

That's the ingenious stratagem behind Zimmerman's narrative, which leaves us hanging from the direst apogees throughout the story, only to resume at a happier — or even more dire — juncture, an ingenious maneuver that ratchets the suspense to Hitchcockian heights but also requires split-second timing and dozens of scene and costume changes.

Fortunately, director Joseph V. Calarco handles the production's intricacies with a sure hand, keeping the action at a brisk pitch while interspersing the general grimness with drollery at welcome intervals.

The design elements are all superb, most outstandingly Calarco's sound design, Brandon Baruch's lighting and JR Bruce's basement (or is that attic?) set, filled with evocative detritus that factors into the action.

The Coeurage ensemble also includes Eduardo Fernandez-Baumann, Margaret Katch, Leslie Murphy, Katie Pelensky, Sean Spann, Randolph Thompson and Eddie Vona. They display the metronomic precision of the Rockettes, never faltering in their multiple roles. It's a winning group, a seamless team so in tune with one another.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

‘The Secret in the Wings’

Where: The Lankershim Arts Center, 5108 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood

When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays; ends Dec. 16

Tickets: Pay what you want

Info: (323) 944-2165. www.coeurage.org/sitw

Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

See all of our latest arts news and reviews at latimes.com/arts.

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