Rosa and Blanca: fairy tale for a postmodern age

Was this term's mainstage show relativity or relativism?

February 28, 2008

Part of a series on Theater

Rosa and Blanca is based on a dichotomy so familiar as to seem cliché, that between the corporate, orderly, routinized, normative life of the city; and the creative, idealistic freedom that can only exist in a forest filled with anthropomorphized creatures. It is a dichotomy that relates readily to the counterculture movements of the sixties (and today), and one that harkens back to the portrayal of that counterculture on the same stage in As You Like It two years ago.

Even though this binary has roots as old as Shakespeare and cultural meaning across the gamut of American society (and apparently within German society as well), Rebekka Kricheldorf has imbued it with deliciously real moments that lend solidity and depth to a subject matter that too often disintegrates into an amorphous mass of abstract political signifiers.

It is impossible to completely dismiss city life as corrupt and unfulfilling. While the play has plenty of criticism to dish out against it, there are moments of sympathy as well. Simultaneously, if the forest is a utopia, it is a troubled one at best: Rosa and Blanca get along fine with each other and the life they have there, but find the animals dull and disagreeable.

These problematized archetypes are echoed in the costume design; each of the animal characters wear playful allusions to their species that are still recognizable articles of clothing. The real cues come from the actors, who precisely but fluidly reproduce the idiosyncrasies of the animals they portray.

But the most significant way in which the play reformulates classic structures is in the plot itself. While the fairy tale form on which it is based lends the play its setting and in its choice of animals for supporting characters, the structure of the fairy tale itself is subtly but fundamentally changed.

It seems quite straightforward at first. Rosa and Blanca symbolize two different trajectories through the twin spheres of the play. Rosa is vain, Blanca is bookish; Rosa saves the dwarf from his episodic near-death experiences, Blanca wonders why she even bothers. Rosa charges ahead when she meets the bear, achieving a marginal advantage with him that seems moot to everyone except the more reticent Blanca.

It is Blanca, then, who pushes the bear-hunting dwarf into the swamp while Rosa goes to get a net. It is Rosa who is eaten by the bear in pursuit of an impractical but somehow very meaningful pseudosexual fantasy. It is Blanca who, seeing this, finally concedes to her mother’s pressure and leaves the forest for the city. The moral of the story: be careful what you wish for…right?

Maybe not. If we are really to believe that the city is fundamentally superior to the forest, why isn’t Rosa an unwitting victim of the bear’s game? Instead, she is complicit in her own death; aspiring, in being killed, to an apparently absurd higher state. Who are we, much less her mother and sister, to say that she did not achieve it? In the end she did exactly what she set out to do: become one with the bear, if perhaps not in the way she had anticipated.

The moral of the story is not a universal rule. Instead, it simultaneously problematizes utopian separatism and questions the universalism of our own urban leanings. The moral of the story is a delicate equilibrium, the play walks a fine line between relativity and relativism, challenging us to revisit even assumptions we’ve already questioned.

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