Radio Hour Episode 9: Grimm
—by Matthew Ivan Bennett
From years of writing down my dreams, I know what Joseph Campbell means when he says dreams are private myths and myths are public dreams.
Periodically, I’ve been scared away from doing dreamwork because the dreams have gotten so dark. For instance, about a year ago I dreamt of being stabbed by my doppelganger in the leg with an old screwdriver. He was shirtless, and his head twisted round to face over his (my) bony white back. As he plunged steel into me, I told him it wasn’t real, but he merely jabbed deeper and leered. I bolted up in bed from the pain.
The Grimm tales are like this. Fairies will toss your beloved out of a window and drown your ass. Parents will put themselves first. Beauty is a virtue. Disobedient children die. Good children die (but are sometimes resurrected).
The Grimm Brothers’ stories have been banned or sanitized because they deal in the language of dreams —violence, bone magic, animal marriage, and doppelgangers with winter’s anger in their eyes. But both dreams and myths become less shocking, and more interesting, when you know how to relate to them properly.
The soil of some myths might have a real historical fact or two sleeping in them, but myths are most useful when we interpret them like dreams—as if the setting, people and things are all roots in your own tree. When you do that, you realize the sex and scarlet apocalyptic violence isn’t gratuitous at all! It’s just the imagination’s way of baiting and pinning down our attention while the subconscious exhales our frosty cobwebbed emotions.
Seen this way, Little Snow White is more than a tale about a woman who resents losing her looks; it’s an honest, shrill confession that not every mother loves her daughter, that some of them get depressed and irrationally mad at needy crying infants. As a society, we push these terrors down into our subconscious. But the terrors always erupt.
Many of the stories are straight-up horror, like Fitcher’s Bird. Others are clearly Christian allegories. The collection is too varied to make blanket statements about it. But it’s fair to say that we still enjoy the Brothers Grimm because they satisfy our inner child’s love of topsy-turviness and our grown-up—if tribal and severe—sense of justice.
It’s a singular joy to return to Radio Hour for episode nine (and my sixth!) with the old Plan-B and KUER team. Where Disney wanted to enchant you with Rapunzel and Little Snow-White, we want to haunt you, shock you a little and give you a dark giggle. With The Juniper Tree, the most violent piece, we’re trying an experimental form that may become a bitter feast for the ear. Keep in mind—we’re dealing in the dark language of dreams.
But sometimes maybe the subconscious just wants to have a bit of fun. u
Matthew Ivan Bennett is Plan-B Theatre Company’s resident playwright. His recent work includes the much-acclaimed Different=Amazing, an anti-bullying play for grades 4-6.
RADIO HOUR EPISODE 9: GRIMM receives its world premiere October 15, 2014 at 7pm sharp in the Jeanne Wagner Theatre at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center. The performance is also broadcast live on KUER’s RadioWest with you as the live studio audience and will be available in perpetuity as a podcast.
Featuring Bill Allred, Colleen Baum, Jay Perry, Teresa Sanderson, Jason Tatom.
Original music by Dave Evanoff.
Directed by Cheryl Ann Cluff.
Visit PlanBtheatre.org for more information and tickets, as well as details on subscribing to Plan-B’s 2014/15 season.