Walking a Mile in 'Iron Shoes' at Shotgun Players

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Angel Adedokun, Sharon Shao and Caitlin Tabancay Austin are in 'Iron Shoes' at the Shotgun Players in Berkeley (Ben Krantz/Shotgun)

We treasure folk and fairy tales for the insights into our culture that they provide. Disney bowdlerizes and makes movies out of these tales, and we put our children to sleep with them, even though they're often weird, terrifying, and sexist. So maybe it's no surprise that the Shotgun Players is presenting the world premiere of Iron Shoes, a musical deconstruction of three Eastern European folk tales about girls forced to wander the world and wear out a pair (or three pair) of iron shoes, in order to be reunited with a lover or family. The project got its start when Janet Kutulus of the Bay Area's Kitka, the all woman Balkan music chorus, wrote a song cycle based on the stories. Kutulus then hooked up with director-choreographer Erika Chong Shuch and writer Michelle Carter to put the stories and music on stage. Shuch says the idea was to reevaluate these tales where the girls are powerless, the step-sisters are cruel and the parents are indifferent; and how the storyteller becomes complicit in the suffering.

The cast confronts the narrator, Beth Wilmurt, in 'Iron Shoes' at the Shotgun Players in Berkeley
The cast confronts the narrator, Beth Wilmurt, in 'Iron Shoes' at the Shotgun Players in Berkeley (Ben Krantz/Shotgun)

"So we started thinking a lot about narration, and who has the right to tell these stories," Shuch told me backstage at the theater a few days ago. "And for the girls in iron shoes, other people have been telling their stories. But what kind of shift would happen if the person telling their story, actually had to live thru what they lived through?"

There's lots of humor in Iron Shoes, despite the post-modern approach. And I found the play, especially the music and dance, deeply moving. And what's best in Iron Shoes, is the way it asks what it means to be a sympathetic, empathetic person, even when telling a tragic tale.

Iron Shoes continues at The Shotgun Players at the Ashby Stage through May 6. Details here.