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  • Stephanie Kulke

‘Beyond the Garden Gate’ is creepy and gory in all the right ways the Imposters at the Den Theatre

Paraphrasing the fearsome faerie Morrigan, “You poets, and artists think you are special, but you are nothings like everyone else.” 

The enduring popularity of dark fairy tales written by the Brothers Grimm, Charles Perrault and Hans Christian Anderson prove otherwise. Could it be the one power we mortals wield over death is our stories?

The latest story to join the pantheon of dark fairy tales is “Beyond the Garden Gate,” by playwright Mallory Swisher, an ensemble member of the Imposter Theatre Company (ITC). The play is creepy and gory in all the right ways. For starters, there are some hella juicy roles for ITC ensemble members. 

Hilary Sanzel (as the curse-ridden Grandmother) kicks off the action in a grotesquely violent way. Heaping on the atmosphere throughout is Annika Andersson (as the Musician/Fey) whose sinuous and jerky fiddle playing underscores moments of lyricism and horror. The primary protagonists Maria Clara Ospina (as thoughtful younger sister Katherine and Eliana Deckner-Glick (as rebellious Maeve) are fast, furious, and often very funny, and even more so when Sanzel adds her dark comic energy. Swisher does some of her best writing in the scenes that expose the undercurrent of sibling tension and intergenerational family dynamics. 

Dark diva energy abounds in scene stealing performances by Jasmine Robertson (as The Watcher) and Jaclyn Jensen (as The Morrigan).

Under the direction of ITC artistic director Stefan Roseen, the show is fast paced and gleefully theatrical thanks to  contributions from a sizeable creative team. A partial list includes creepily sensual underworld dance sequences (choreographed by Anna Roemer), music and sound (composed by Dominick Vincent Alesia), assorted puppetry brilliance (by Elyse Estes), carnivalesque lighting (by Baylee Speer), an ingeniously versatile set design with curtains for shadow effects (by Ethan Gasbarro). A sensuous faerie/warlock fantasy wardrobe of corsets and crimson, black feathers, hair styling and body paint (by Toria Olivier), and gore and viscera (by SFX designers Jessica Miller and Jackie Bobbitt), fights and intimacy (directed by Tim McCarthy and Erin Sheets), that make for convincing violence and body horror effects. 

The plot in a nutshell is this: Sisters Maeve and Kat grew up hearing Grandmother’s infamous fairy tales – featuring  wee babes stolen at night by faerie folk, replaced by fey children with blank eyes who nursed the life out of their human mothers. The tales terrified both sisters and solidified in their memories.

Fast forward a dozen years or more. The granddaughters are young adults, and Grandmother is acting strangely. Is it dementia that is making her confuse her fairy tales for real life? And what is causing the strange episodes where she paces the kitchen at night, seizes up in pain, and points large scissors at her neck?

Maeve has an idea for curing Grandmother if she can talk Kat into joining her just beyond the garden gate between twilight and dawn. The sisters discover getting ancient forces of darkness to yield the grip on their family will take more than Maeve’s courage and Kat’s goodness. Hold tight, it’s going to be a bumpy, bloody ride.

“Beyond the Garden Gate” is a dark and twisted PG-13 fairy tale that will appeal to those with a taste for mythology, the supernatural, fantasy and horror.

The Imposters "Beyond the Garden Gate" is playing for one more weekend at the Den Theatre, 1331 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL. for more information go to

Photo by Kyle Smart

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