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Toys: A Dark Fairy Tale

Hilarity and menace converge in this absorbing, mysterious and sensationally performed theater piece about two young women from a war-torn country.

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Tunde Skovran and Julia Ubrankovics in a scene from “Toys: A Dark Fairy Tale” (Photo credit: Lindsey Mejia)

[avatar user=”Darryl Reilly” size=”96″ align=”left” ] Darryl Reilly, Critic[/avatar]Hilarity and menace converge in Romanian-born playwright Saviana Stanescu’s absorbing and mysterious theater piece about two women from war-torn “Karvystan.”

Clara is a cheery PhD student at NYU and soon to be married.  At her New York City apartment, for her dissertation “Women in War Zones,” she is interviewing the black, leather clad Shari, nicknamed Madonna, because she supposedly resembles a religious painting.

Shari has survived and witnessed atrocities in her native country. Clara was born there, brought to the United States as a child and was raised in comfort.  Whether Clara is actually Shari’s sister Fatma is the beguiling Pinteresque premise that is explored over the course of 50 delirious minutes. 

Tunde Skovran as Shari and Julia Ubrankovics as Clara are sensational. The brunette Ms. Skovran and the blonde Ms. Ubrankovics are a dynamic team who each offer vivid portrayals with their powerful physicality and resonant voices that emit differing degrees of an East European accent.  The outrageous finale has them gloriously carrying on in an extended, celebratory dance sequence.

Julia Ubrankovics and Tunde Skovran in a scene from “Toys: A Dark Fairy Tale” (Photo credit: Simon Buia)

I had a grenade in my pocket too. You don’t leave the house without a grenade. You never know what’s going to happen on the streets. It’s better to die by your own hand than to be raped and killed by the enemy. 

Women, soldiers, all dead. I washed their remains. I put everything in two big garbage bags. I buried them. I wish I could take time to separate them, but I couldn’t… I couldn’t… 

Ms. Stanescu’s dialogue is a heady mixture of Ionesco-style absurdism and fierce realism that sustains her intriguing work that takes the familiar framework of depicting political oppression into a fascinating dimension.

With the intense sensibility of one of Ingmar Bergman’s cinematic dramas and the look of Andy Warhol’s 1960’s screen tests and home movies, director Gabor Tompa’s black and white themed production is visually and emotionally arresting with its striking imagery.

Julia Ubrankovics and Tunde Skovran in a scene from “Toys: A Dark Fairy Tale” (Photo credit: Lindsey Mejia)

Mr. Gabor’s high caliber theatrical auteurism extends to his hypnotic lighting design that has strobe bursts, pulsing electronic original music, enveloping sound design and stark scenic design.  That has the confined playing area bare, with black walls surrounding a bright, white back wall and floor and smoke periodically wafting. A small camera on a tripod, a tea set, trash bags, a male dummy, and a myriad of eerie, tiny plastic dolls are instrumental props.

Elisa Benzoni’s artfully simple costume design is an alluring collection of black leather ensembles, white lingerie and cleverly constructed wedding dresses.

Though brief in length, Toys: A Dark Fairy Tale is stimulating, provocative and memorable.

Toys: A Dark Fairy Tale (through November 26, 2017)

J.U.S.T. Toys Productions

59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, 212-279-4200 or visit

Running time: 50 minutes with no intermission

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