Out of all the fantastically dark Grimm fairytales, Rapunzel appealed to me the least. As an African-American child alternating between the pain of braids and the heat of pressing combs, I found the image of a Caucasian male climbing my hair, potentially pulling it by the roots, repellant. Yet, Rapunzel simultaneously remained rich with enticing midnight imagery and fierce maternity.
In Brown-Eyed Rapunzel, Writer/Director Monica Flory places the isolating tendencies of the fairytale’s maternal figure at the forefront while cheekily acknowledging the intricacy of black hair care. The play surrounds bi-racial Rinnie and her Caucasian mother, Karen, who sequesters her daughter to protect her from social injustices. Incorporating time travel, dance choreography and shadow puppets, the play feels reminiscent of Ntozake Shange’s genre-mixing choreo-poem, For Colored Girls, in context and Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye in title. It also interweaves two other Grimm fairytales, Cinderella and Red Riding Hood, with two original fairytales (one about a queen, a merchant, and a mirror) into its dreamscape.
In a flurried weekend interview, Flory unveiled her impetus for the play:
“I wanted to experiment with what happens if we rethink the tales with mixed-race heroines and white moms--what are all the different ways that could play out? What's specific about parenting across race, and what's universal about the endless letting-go of parenting?”
Is your family OK with the play?
“One of my collaborators, Jess (who is dancing and choreographing), told me, ‘you had something to say to your daughters and you didn't know how to say it, so you wrote them a play.’ And I suppose that's true…”
Any additional thoughts?
“I have always felt this assurance from my own mother, that there's no way to wreck us. That she's a redwood tree, sturdy in her love. So I guess this play is a love letter to both my daughters and my own mother.”
What, When, Where:
Catch Brown-Eyed Rapunzel at Philly Pack, 233 Federal Street, September 6 and 7 at 7:30pm. Play contains subject matter concerning police brutality. Building is not equipped with accessible restroom facilities.