In contemporary context, the Brothers Grimm fairy tale “Little Red Riding Hood” fails to carry any sort of lesson.
Michael Kelly, who wrote the Olney Theatre Center’s adaptation debuting tomorrow, says this is why he gave the story a modern twist.
“It applies to [the Brothers Grimm] — trying to teach children in the mid-1800s to not go into the woods because you could get eaten, because that was a huge possibility back then. So I wanted to modernize the story and make a central character that … kids could relate to,” Kelly says.
Running to April 7, “Red Riding Hood: A New Fable” follows a first-grader named Millie, who is instructed to do a project on fairy tales.
“I thought it would be a very interesting idea for making our main character a girl who’s on the edge of something new,” Kelly says. “In the case of Millie, it’s going from kindergarten to first grade, which I remember as a kid was a big leap because you’re going from the security of preschool — where you get to play all the time and you have all your friends — to a structured educational curriculum for the next 12 years of [your] life and then college.”
Millie is a child who loves reading and is insecure about her intelligence. She researches her project and, in doing so, begins to dream she is living in the fairy tale. As such, she ends up confronting the story’s famous wolf.
When imagining the villain, Kelly says he wanted to have the two come down to a battle of the wits.
“[The wolf] is sort of like Jimmy Stewart. He has this sort of antiquated, like, post-World War II sort of grace about him. And it was as a lot of fun making the wolf not just an animal that wants to eat Red and her grandmother,” Kelly says.
The show itself was staged, written and directed by Olney’s interns.
“Here at Olney, we have 12 interns in our internship program. And in producing this show, it was my idea to make it a much more cost-effective venture and something that we could pursue as both a theater and a group of interns. I proposed that the interns would do every part of the show.”
Portraying Millie is Dorea Schmidt, a professional non-equity actor.
For Schmidt, “Red Riding Hood” follows a girl who breaks out of her shell.
“To me, it’s really about a girl who comes into acceptance with herself. And I think with a lot of kids’ stories — in ‘Beauty and the Beast’ and Disney stories — it’s a lot of love stories, which is kind of interesting but it’s not relatable to kids,” Schmidt says.
The show’s set also plays upon Millie’s love for reading. Some props, including trees, are covered with book pages.
Director Ashleigh Millett says she normally enjoys helming avant-garde productions, but was drawn to Kelly’s intelligent script.
“Something that’s admirable about the script is that it talks to the kids like they’re adults,” Millett says. “They don’t have to feel like this is a play for kids, even though it is a theater production for children and we do have those moments ... because they’re fun, but the script itself does relate to the kids as equals.”
The show is recommended for children ages 3 and older, and Millett hopes it will be the beginning of the audience’s own fairy tale adventure with theater.
“I just hope that they get imaginatively inspired,” Millett says. “It’s a play about accepting who you are through imagination, through literature, through books, through everything. It’s okay to be who you are, who you want to be.”