What the Moon Saw

Despite their target audience of children, more than a tinge of the macabre colors fairy tales. A salivating wolf hunts down a little girl on the way to her grandmother's; another little girl freezes to death while selling matches. Inspired, then, is Stephanie Fleischmann's decision to intersect the paths of one of the most famous fairy-tale authors, Hans Christian Andersen, and New York City, circa 9/11, in her world-premiere play. Stringing together the four stories, all riffs on classic Andersen tales, is another of the Dane's works, "What the Moon Saw," in which the moon overlooks a civilization in decline — which is personified here by Leah Harmon, who hangs over the action playing a pearlescent accordion. That's just one of the excellent design team's fanciful touches, which lend the production the delightful feel of a children's pop-up book: Work boots hold stage lights; when the "sky falls," a bucketful of sand suspended from the ceiling is tipped over; cutouts and silhouettes dance behind a scrim. Though many of Fleischmann's ideas are earthy, director Matthew McCray allows a tendency toward preciousness. In "Friction/Steadfast," Michael Nehring gets shrill as a cross-dressing aunt, and during "Match or Spooky Action at a Distance," Allie Costa and Whitton Frank strip the text of its drama by adding too much into the acting. Still, the latter vignette, inspired by one of Andersen's most heart-wrenching tales, "The Little Match Girl," is the most striking of the night. As a member of the NYFD (a terrifically restrained Alex Smith) digs through the aftermath of 9/11, he says he thinks about the "molecular composition of the firemen's indestructible rubber boots." The contrast between that image and time, 10 years of which have blown away like ash, is a reminder far more indelible than the phrase "Never forget." Son of Semele Theater, 3301 Beverly Blvd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; thru Oct. 9. (213) 351-3507, sonofsemele.org
Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 4 p.m. Starts: Sept. 9. Continues through Oct. 9, 2011

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