Swedish Folk Tales, Swedish American Museum. The original versions of fairy tales are usually darker than the Disney renderings, yet adapter-director Kate Hawley has not toned down the grimmer aspects of the six Swedish folktales in this family-oriented production. A magic fiddle forces people to dance until they die, trolls are intent on gobbling humans, and a greedy king tries to lure a young man to his death. The ensemble members (especially Jan Sodaro as an old woman and Harry Eddleman as a very intense fiddler) take their roles so seriously they can be frightening–a lighter touch might make the tales more palatable to children. Brighter performances are given by Dean Cechvala and Chantelle Daniel, amusing as a fleet-footed runner who puts lead blocks on her feet.
The slow, disjointed early stories are acted out, not told, and may confuse anyone who doesn’t have at least a passing familiarity with them (the younger audience members at the show I saw were restless). But once narration is added halfway through, the tales gain a spark of magic and become full-bodied enchantments. Hawley and costume designer Kim Fencl Rak have created delightful puppets, transforming ensemble members into gnarled trolls, floating sprites, and a giant polar bear. A rolling, swaying boat–cleverly designed but not credited–turns the museum’s first-floor gallery into an ocean.