• "Toys: A Dark Fairy Tale" play (Photo - Lindsey Mejia).

      “Toys: A Dark Fairy Tale” play (Photo – Lindsey Mejia).

      A great deal of art has been inspired by this idea: “to move forward in life, we have to make peace with the past.” One only has to look at world headlines to see its truth – old wounds divide, and healing seems a long, sometimes impossible task. Yet Hungarian co-lead Julia Ubrankovics of the recently performed Toys: A Dark Fairy Tale believes this is where we start.

      By Melanie Hooks

      She and Toys’ other actor, Tunde Skovran, spend the one-hour piece living in and getting under each other’s skin. Perhaps they are sisters; perhaps they are alter egos. Director Gábor Tompa, head of University of California at San Diego’s Theatre & Dance Department, pushed the actors to fuse their ideas of the two characters into one. On the surface, one is a Connecticut-raised Women’s Studies Ph.D. student, Clara, writing about female war survivors from the comfort of her academic bubble. But when a tall, mysterious woman appears in Clara’s bedroom, swathed in black leather and silence, Clara’s sense of safety and distance erodes. She calls the woman Madonna, initially believing her to be a legendary resister of force and famous savior of women caught in war’s grasp. But as Madonna unfurls her layered disguise, she begins to speak and accuses Clara of forgetting her own past as a child of the same war in a faraway Eastern European nation, long ago whisked to her New England haven.

      'Toys' play (Photo - Lindsey Mejia).

      ‘Toys’ play (Photo – Lindsey Mejia).

      Clara wants to neither admit that or believe it is true. She fights the revelation as strongly as she fights against Madonna’s revelations of wartime terrors. At one point, Madonna terrorizes Clara herself by ripping the heads off Clara’s dolls and mimicking the abusive, cruel voices she’s known. If somehow you were unsure before that you were watching a European production, you would know now.

      Skovran, from Transylvania, sheds her character’s secrets along with half her clothing, displaying an acrobat’s skill at moving from one incarnation to another – from slinky stranger to outraged child to militant survivor. Her every move seems underlined by an aggression and self-confidence almost never seen from American women onstage. Deliberate conversations, spoken and implied, circle around female identity, as Skovran uses her long legs to both prance and stalk, her bared torso covered with writing to indict the war criminals, and her shorn hair to contrast her long wigs of traditional “softer” women. There is nothing shy, retiring or apologetic about her performance or character, which is enough to make American audiences shift in their seats. It is uncomfortable but with moments of surreal charm, much like the entire play.

      Toys play (Photo - Lindsey Mejia).

      Toys play (Photo – Lindsey Mejia).

      Ubrankovics portrays the more passive of the two women and is appropriately more fragile. She spends much of her time looking past her ‘sister’ instead of at her, trying to sort through her unraveling safety net. She wants to love and be loved. Ubrankovics is a lovely foil to Skovran’s fierceness. She inhabits and portrays this vulnerability without getting run over by the more forceful part, no easy feat. She will not let go of her belief in connection, which in the end, becomes their shared solution.

      Skovran and Ubrankovics created J.U.S.T. Toys Productions to launch this production, penned by fellow Eastern European Saviana Stanescu, which they first performed in L.A. a year ago, and is now set to tour festivals in Romania, Budapest, New York and France. Their goal is to continue to bring specifically European-grounded theater to L.A. and the world, broadening local perspectives. Ubrankovics says that audience members from as far afield as Venezuela and Mexico, however, have shared how close they felt to the characterizations shown in their dark fairy tale. Unfortunately, no one region holds the copyright on torture of its citizens.

      But with some luck, and troupes like J.U.S.T. Toys, art can continue to be the arena where we find ways out of that dark past and into a reconciled and more resilient present.

      Julia Ubrankovics and Tunde Skovran (Photo - Lindsey Mejia).

      Julia Ubrankovics and Tunde Skovran (Photo – Lindsey Mejia).

      “Toys: A Dark Fairy Tale” wrapped its one-night revival in Los Angeles last weekend. Look for it at the following international festivals: Interferences International Theater Festival in Cluj, Romania; Conterminous Drama Festival in Budapest, Hungary; Avignon Theater Festival, France; TBA in NYC. And keep your eyes peeled here for J.U.S.T. Toys’ next local performance.

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      1. Jose Ryasn says:

        The playwright is not mentioned in this review: Saviana Stanescu (www.saviana.com)

        • Melanie Hooks says:

          Jose, thanks so much for drawing attention to the oversight. We’ve now added Saviana Stanescu’s name and link to her site in the review. Thanks again. We always wish to give proper credit to the artists involved.

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