Oh, the litany of wedding-day traditions—the bouquet, the garter, the rings, the borrowed, the blue. But here’s a custom not often practiced: chopping off your beloved’s hands. The Cornish company Kneehigh returns to St. Ann’s Warehouse with The Wild Bride, another gorgeous, ghastly fairy tale. (This one isn’t for kiddies. The ads recommend it for children eight and older, but unless you are rearing sociopaths, keep them home.) Artistic director Emma Rice has adapted “The Handless Maiden,” one of the Grimms’ gorier selections, into a bluegrass saturated dance-theater work.
Set in a kind of fantastical Dust Bowl (that accommodates Irish, Scots, and Continental accents), a feckless father (Stuart Goodwin) accidentally sells his daughter (Audrey Brisson) to the Devil (the sinfully handsome Andrew Durand). But she’s too pure for the archfiend, so he attempts to sully her. When her innocent tears cleanse her hands, he has them lopped off. Wandering in the forest (and now played by Patrycja Kujawska) she meets a kindly kilt-clad prince (Goodwin again) who takes her to wife and fits her with some rather alarming appendages. But the Devil has more menace in store, and Rice has grisly ways to stage it. Don’t get too attached to that adorable deer puppet.
The cast, which includes Etta Murfitt as the girl’s final incarnation and two very able musicians, sing and dance superlatively. To give the Devil his due, Durand, in particular, has an effortlessly powerful voice and a sinuous manner. And Rice shows her usual ability to conjure rough magic with playfully low-tech effects. Yet while the play announces itself as “a feminist fairy tale,” it’s a rare work of feminism that denies agency to its female character and keeps her all but silent until the show’s end. Still, this lush, lively, and gruesome production deserves a hand. Two, even.