Two sisters walking through a forest happen upon a goblin's market, where the little grotesques are hawking their fruits. Stalwart Lizzie (Susan Hoffman) warns against giving into temptation, but the more adventurous Laura (Marnie Mosiman) abandons her sister and joins the goblins for a meal.
The next day, she has a raging jones for more and, unable to locate the market a second time, sickens and begins withering away. To save her sister's life, Lizzie must now buy more fruit without succumbing to the goblin's seductions herself.
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Christina Rossetti's 1862 poem "Goblin Market" is the kind of story with underpinnings ripe for a Grimm-style children's picture book but enough eroticism to hook adults. Kids can delight in the fanciful monstrosities and Laura's creepy decline. Adults can luxuriate in the priceless word pictures, smile knowingly at the thinly veiled oral gratification, and smirk at the poem's Victorian anti-sex messages as they pass right over the heads of the young ones.
Even with all that going for it, this stripped-down, 75-minute musical written by Polly Pen and Peggy Harmon is a sullen bore. Director Jules Aaron and his cast do admirable work with this limp, misguided adaptation, slogging through the interminable songs with a smile, despite the fact that feminist ideology has been injected into a work sorely at odds with such modern thought.
Just because the actresses strip to their underwear (to shed their Victorian sensibilities) and share a kiss at one point doesn't make this a "sisters doing it for themselves" manifesto—especially when one woman is punished for her desire and the other becomes a heroine by refusing the little men who want to give her their "fruit." Blindly ignoring Rossetti's sex-negative theme—which rears its ugly head throughout—in favor of a political agenda works at cross-purposes with the poem's intent and further removes the fun from a production already short on visual and aural pleasures.
Goblin Market at the International City Theatre, Long Beach City College, Clark St. & Harvey Way, Long Beach, (562) 938-4128. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. Through Nov. 14. $19-$22.