When the new musical Constance & Sinestra and the Cabinet of Screams premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in the summer of 2011, Lane Community College student Anna Parks happened to catch a performance of the quirky show. Parks later brought the idea of presenting the offbeat musical to LCC’s Student Production Association, and after clearing sizeable hurdles to secure the rights to the play, the LCC theater will be among the first venues outside of the UK to debut this darkly twisted fairy tale.
Constance and Sinestra are young sisters living a typical life in Victorian London: They’re confined to a ruined house on the edge of a cliff; their taxidermist father’s gone off his nut since the untimely death of his wife, who he’s stuffed and propped up in the hallway; Sinestra collects the screams of the horrified people that look on her; and though Constance pines for the boy next door, he, not surprisingly, loves another. You know, that old chestnut.
“People can relate to outcasts,” Director Michael P. Watkins says. The production leans on gothic aesthetics, serving as a dusky retelling of the Hansel and Gretel story. “It’s about broken homes, about lost children,” he says.
As director, Watkins says his role has been to balance the eerily Victorian look of the show with the dynamic interpersonal connections among the characters. “I believe it’s these relationships that everyone can relate to, that makes the play accessible emotionally,” he says.
Musically, its one-act format is infectious and inventive, but Watkins admits that the musical’s origins in an alternative arts festival — albeit the biggest in the world — might have left something to be desired in terms of the songbook and lyrics’ organization. Before rehearsals even began, Watkins says he and musical director Jim Greenwood worked closely with playwright and director Alexandra Spencer-Jones and composer Patrick Gleeson to quilt together a full script and complete music from the assorted materials that had been sent across the pond. One of the reasons for the challenge, Watkins notes, is that LCC will perform the piece with entirely live music, which wasn’t attempted at Fringe.
Although the bizarre world that Constance and Sinestra inhabit might appear at the outset too stilted to be emotionally resonant, Watkins expresses certainty that audiences will be drawn in.
“It’s like a dramedy,” Watkins says. “If you treat the comedy, the drama handles itself, because it’s in the script.” He adds, “Really, it’s a story about relationships, which is what I’m focusing on.”
Constance & Sinestra and the Cabinet of Screams runs 7 pm, Nov. 14-15 and Nov. 20-22, and 2 pm, Nov. 16, at LCC’s Blue Door Theatre; $10, $5 seniors and students. Tickets available at lanecc.edu/tickets or 463-5161.