What's the matter with the grimly fiendish stage treatment of Coraline?
Musing on the latent, vaguely Heideggerian content of this "children's story," however, turns out to be just one way of passing the time over the course of 90 otherwise-uneventful minutes. Musically, the play begins with a tinkly little overture on toy pianos by the ensemble, before transitioning to off-stage (and somewhat muted) piano accompaniment by music director Robert Moreno. Merritt's lightly humorous songs seesaw between naïve surface gestures and intimations of roiling depths. But the shrewd charm of the songs themselves can't carry a show preoccupied with balancing the story's cuteness and its potential shock value, and leaning too heavily toward the former. (It may have been a shrewd move of the original New York production to have cast an adult, namely actress Jayne Houdyshell, in the title role, thereby holding out the potential for greater subtlety and irony at the center of the story.)
The material and music notwithstanding, the production's too timid approach to the violence and dread in the story tends to fracture the action into a series of adorable bits and self-consciously "playful" wickedness. The Brothers Grimm or even Hans Christian Andersen it ain't, though you can't help feeling it should have been.
Through Jan. 15; $30-50
533 Sutter, SF
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