Imagine a story where the hero and heroine are dwarfs, the villain is a gluttonous king and his court minions are characters more bizarre than those creatures sitting at the bar in “Star Wars.” That’s for starters. In truth, nothing you’ve likely ever seen on TV will prepare you for “Fool’s Fire” on “American Playhouse” tonight (at 8 on KCET Channel 28 and KPBS Channel 15).
What prepares you for this hour-long phantasmagoria are long-suppressed memories of childhood wonder, frightening fairy tales like “Hansel and Gretel” and, on the deepest dream level, emanations of terror and madness. Which brings us to Edgar Allan Poe, the first surrealist, whose short story “Hopfrog” inspired this fabulist journey.
Imaginatively written and directed by Julie Taymor (recipient of the first annual Dorothy B. Chandler Performing Arts Award in 1990), the production is set in a medieval castle and stars Michael Anderson as a court jester. He is cruelly treated like a pet monkey, forced to perform acrobatic tricks for the slobbering king and his revolting, cackling ministers.
The lure here is that twilight between a state of amazement and dismay. Poe, whose poem “Bells” concludes the piece, was always blending beauty and horror. And in this tale of sweet revenge, Taymor has dared to visualize Poe’s dark, symbolist mind, leaving all prior Poe adapters in the dust.