Analyzing Grimm’s Fairy Tales is standard fare for college English majors. Before they were whitewashed by Walt Disney and others, the disturbing stories weren’t suitable for children — themes of abandonment, sexual deviance, and abuse were common. With Ginger, PURE manages to modernize the classic story of “Hansel and Gretel” while retaining its original darkness and taking it to another level.
The story’s family lives in a tiny trailer with paper-thin walls. What at first seems like a loving, flirtatious relationship between the parents quickly turns tense as they begin arguing over their financial problems. Sissy the stepmother, played by Carri Schwab in her Charleston debut, tugs at our sympathies as she coughs up blood and talks about her long days at the beauty salon, but that changes when she hints at kicking out her husband’s teenaged children. “When I was their age I was runnin’ an Orange Julius,” she says, insisting that they’re ready to become adults. She demands that he choose between her and his children, and he chooses her.
We’re used to seeing Brian DeCosta ham it up onstage at Theatre 99, but he pulls off the hen-pecked, befuddled Junior perfectly. After a failed attempt at leaving his children at the local mall, he drops them off at the outskirts of town, a place filled with mostly abandoned mansions. Hampton and Ginger are taken in by a strange Botox- and booze-addicted divorcee (also played by Schwab after an onstage costume change), and she seduces them with sugary cereal and the latest video games. The woman’s plan may not be to eat them, but Ginger eventually realizes they’re in trouble and does what’s necessary to save herself and her brother.
As the title suggests, this play really is about Ginger, played by Sullivan Graci Hamilton, daughter of PURE co-founder Sharon Graci. While her brother Hampton (Addison Dent) spends most of the play engrossed in his video games, Ginger is always listening and thinking. At 17 years old, she uses yoga and new age ideologies as an escape from her difficult life, but being away from home forces her to face some issues she’d previously ignored: namely, what it means to be an adult and a woman.
We’re not sure when her biological mother died, but Ginger seems untethered, desperately calling on her hated stepmother for advice when she’s most confused. She does what she’s told, but as the play progresses, she asks more questions and eventually realizes that she’s the only person who can answer them. Ginger is an in-charge woman by the play’s end — but it’s unclear if that’s a good thing.
As Ginger’s main female influences, Schwab’s two characters look and act like opposites, but they both have a ruthless streak that seems to wear off on the girl. Then again, there’s always the interpretation that the two are in fact the same person — it’s almost too convenient that when the siblings return home, Sissy has disappeared. Schwab, who recently moved to Charleston from New York, impressed us with her portrayal of two versions of evil.
The set, which is spread out over most of Lance Hall, is sparse, leaving much to the imagination. The trailer is represented by some tarps held up by boards and a few thrift-store props, a life-size Monopoly board takes up the center of the room, and the mansion contains a chair, a creepy collection of bejeweled dolls, and two mysterious closets. The audience sits around the perimeter of the room.
PURE founder Rodney Lee Rogers and Lab Director Spencer Deering were initially nervous about writing the play together, their first collaboration. But the result of these two talented playwrights combined is predictably positive. Ginger boasts PURE’s signature blend of dark humor and clever plot twists, even when we think we know exactly where everything will end.