The Wild Bride is a very wild and wonderful ride and the Silent Film Museum in Niles is well worth the easy drive!

The Wild Bride with Patrycja Kujawska as the bride and Stuart Goodwin as the Prince
Photo by: Kevin Berne

This week before Christmas I wanted to bring you something different to spice up your Christmas Holidays, a brand new look at a rewritten German fairytale , one that was part of the Grimm Brothers collection entitled (in one of the 16 slightly different versions), “The Handless Maiden”. In joint co-operation with Berkeley Repertory Theater and the Kneehigh Theatre in Great Britain, the story has been re-envisioned, adapted and altered again. This time the brilliant Emma Rice, co-Artistic director of Britain’s “Kneehigh Theater”, along with her company’s dedicated co-authoring writers and actors who make up (perhaps the most innovative theatrical company in all of Great Britain,today have engrossed themselves in an incredible project, the rewriting of a fairy tale for modern audiences. As it is currently re-incarnated, “The Handless Maiden” has become a brilliantly conceived and orchestrated musical fairy tale, now known as “The Wild Bride”.

One common theme in many similar or closely related fairy tales, tell of a poor farmer or miller who is met at a symbolic crossroad in his life by a charismatic character, the devil, who is generally dressed in contemporary clothes with a beguiling offer of some nature, most often, in exchange for the poor man’s soul. Using that basic storyline, as taken from these German Fairy tales, Kneehigh Theater ventured across the Atlantic Ocean and snatched up another tale about another poor man, famous blues guitarist, Robert Johnson, to incorporate, in no small part, into their new tale. Johnson’s incredibly poignant blues music was so outer-worldly (according to author Julie McCormick), that Mr. Johnson must have made a deal with the devil to become the legend he did in such a short time! Actually, little is really known of him other than he was born in 1911 in Hazlehurst, Mississippi, produced 29 recordings between 1936 and 1937, and has become one of the most celebrated blues musicians of all times and died mysteriously at age 27.

This production company hasextraordinary story telling style, with its earthy eclectic costume design, broadly diverse musical talent, and dancing and acting skills of its actors. When you add the poignancy and vibrancy of darkly tinged and occasionally vibrant blues music, the merger resonates and reverberates well with the mysticism, mystery and magic surrounding the tale of “The Wild Bride”!

The hapless father (Stuart Goodwin), at times switches roles to that of the “adoring prince”. There are three women who play the same “Wild” woman with no hands at different times during the performance. Audren Brisson, Patrycja Kujawska and Eva Magyar, are found to switch roles again and again, to add to the diversity, and proper age of the characters needed. Musician Ian Ross plays many different instruments and melds them exquisitely into the romantic fiber of this story.

The basic story in this tale is about a father who is very poor, but is just getting by, when he is met by a gentleman (the devil in disguise) at a crossroads and is offered fabulous wealth provided he merely surrender whatever the gentleman might find in the father’s back yard. The father does not take the bet too seriously as he believes that the only thing in his back yard, is a dying apple tree. He agrees to the offer, only to find out too late that his beautiful young daughter was coincidentally standing in the back yard exactly at the time her father and the devil made their deal.

To make a very complex and exciting tale move along, I will simply say that each of the numerous times that the devil comes to claim the father’s daughter, for one reason or another, either because of chastity, cleanliness, virtue, or whatever, the devil claims that he can not take the girl. He finally orders the father to cut off the girl’s hands or to give up his own life instead. The daughter begs her father to cut away her hands if it would spare her loving and much adored father his life.

The daughter, after losing her hands, disappears into the woods and becomes a creature of the woods, surviving by her own wisdom, wit and wiles. She is eventually discovered by an unmarried prince as she steals the pears from his highness’s royal garden. The prince fashions mechanical hands for her made from silver. She and the Prince wed and eventually she bears the prince a beautiful child. The devil tries again and again to exact his revenge upon the “Wild Bride”, causing great pain and suffering along the way, but does not win the handless maid.

It is a magnificent fairy tale, an allegory told in powerful, visual and musical terms, rich with ribald adult, yet child-like humor, a tale of coming of age, for young and old alike!

This is one of the better productions to come out of a Bay Area theater this year, a wonderful and wacky tale, well told. The first act is a bit slow, by purpose no doubt, to make the final act the wonder that it is. The sound effects, the tension, the dance choreography, the marvelous singing voices of the actors, all add indispensable elements that make this production sing! This is a wild tale, delightfully well told, a spell magically executed!

The Wild Bride continues Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., with Wednesday and Sunday performances at 7 p.m., plus matinees on Saturdays and Sundays at 2 pm, extended now through January 22nd. Tickets range in price between $14.50 and $73 for each ticket. Call (510) 647-2949 or visit their website at or call the toll free number at (888) BRT-Tix. The Roda Theater is located at 2015 Addison Street in Berkeley (near Shattuck)

Silent Film Flickers bring miles of smiles in Niles!

Around the first of November, I wrote in my column about the wonderful era of silent films, or as my grandparents called them, the fabulous “flickers”. I also detailed a little history of the birth of the film industry that prospered right here in the East Bay, circa 1912, just a short drive from Walnut Creek to the community at the end of Niles Canyon, commonly known as Niles, California.

The Essanay Silent Film Museum is now located at 37417 Niles Boulevard, in Fremont, California. I mentioned that I was looking forward to attending the comedy evening of selected silent film shorts on December 17th, consisting of four terrific films of the silent film era, the first of which was Charley Chase’s “There Ain’t No Santa Claus.” In this delightfully funny film, a hard working gentleman finds himself trapped between tough financial times and poor credit. He desperately wants to provide some basic Christmas gifts for his wife and daughter. At the same time he is confronted by his landlord who is demanding his December rent. The challenge is how to avoid paying the rent in order to make his family’s Christmas gift expectations come true. This simply written and directed movie has a delightful, positive and clever twist at the end.

The second film was Charlie Chaplin’s famous comedy about an alcoholic who checks into a spa where he attempts to take “The Cure”. This Charlie Chaplin film is one of his funniest, employing multiple madcap revolving door sequences, a moose of a masseuse, a big guy with gout, a lovely young lady (Edna Purviance) and a lot of booze accidentally emptied into a “health spa spring”, enough to make us all sing with laughter.

The third was the classic Buster Keaton 1920 film (written and directed by Keaton) about love’s labor’s nearly lost and a “scarecrow” who finds himself lucky in love, entitled, “The Scarecrow!” This movie is renowned for an opening scene in which Buster Keaton and his roommate, “Big” Joe Martin, engage in the most brilliant breakfast preparation, consumption and clean up scene. Keaton cleverly employs the choreographed use of a kitchen stove, a revolving tub, convertible table, eating tools and Rube Goldberg type table top props in a fashion you have never seen before! The real story, once you get into it, is about Keaton and Big Joe’s competitive sparring for the hand of a beautiful farmer’s daughter (played by Sybil Seely). Even Fatty Arbuckle’s own dog, Luke, was borrowed and used in very funny chase scenes.

Finally, we enjoyed the famous Lauren and Hardy movie entitled “Big Business”, in which they are attempting to sell Christmas trees on a door to door basis from their little pickup truck. The “tit for tat” or “I’m getting even with you” theme that made this movie such an incredible success had been used again and again in many of their story lines over the years.

Granted, these movies are only shown once by scheduled performances that are announced a couple of months in advance, so you have to go to the Museum’s web site or sign up for their email communications to be kept informed as to what shows will be playing on which nights. The 120 seat theater and museum is staffed by volunteers and is only open from noon until 4 pm on Saturdays and Sundays. The movie theater opens at 7 p.m. and the movies start at 7:30 pm. The museum is open at intermission and after the movies’ end, for you to peruse the wonderful collection of historic movie equipment and to provide you with an opportunity to purchase many of these old movies restored on DVD. They also have a wonderful collection of books and posters related to the silent film era. The tour of the projection room was a real treat. The museum which started out with an initial collection of about 400 movies now has accumulated over 9000 original films for which the museum is trying to accumulate the funds necessary to preserve and properly store.

Niles is now a tourist town with lots of antique shops, restaurants, gift shops, a couple of old bars, a fancy old fashioned train station and sightseeing train tours and this great silent film museum. You can find the details on the web page at or call them at (510) 494-1411. The only requested donation (total cost to see the film) is $5 for the silent film pianist (Judith Rosenberg on the night we went, who brilliantly provided the appropriate background mood music much of which was done extemporaneously).

Niles is a fun town to bum around in with lots of intriguing shops, which provide some great Christmas gift opportunities. You might even go to one of the local restaurants for dinner, before the movie.