Damsel in distress

A damsel faces distress in the University of Wisconsin-Baraboo/Sauk County Theatre Department's production of "Story Theatre." The play opens Thursday and runs through Sunday at the R.G. Brown Theatre.

Don’t run out after seeing “Story Theatre” to get your eyes checked. Scenes are designed to look just a little different than what you’re expecting.

The University of Wisconsin-Baraboo/Sauk County will open its production of Paul Sills’ Tony Award-winning play on Thursday. It delivers a satiric retelling of Aesop’s fables and Grimm’s fairy tales.

It was written as a commentary on Vietnam War-era politics, but this production infuses 1980s and ’90s music to give these fractured fairy tales new meaning.

“This show is evolving into a completely different vehicle than it was originally,” director Tom McEvilly said. “They’re going to have to look at it squinty-eyed to see what’s there.”

“The sound helps to drive the direction of it,” said Gabe Riviere, the campus information specialist. He’s part of the cast and serves as sound designer, handling more than 150 cues.

The cast and crew comprises 12 students, two campus staff members, the entire theater production class, the campus costume club and community volunteers. Each actor will play a minimum of five characters — relying on efficient costume changes, lighting and sound effects, an imaginative set, and improvisational skills — to help tell the tales.

Its scenes feature varying styles, from traditional theater to pantomime to vaudeville to improv. “It’s up to the actors to really make it come alive,” Riviere said.

This is a family-friendly production featuring comedy delivered by actors playing farm animals and family pets. The crew’s versatile set — with a few props and lighting cues, it changes from a bedroom to a church to a forest — also drives the story.

Student cast member Hollie Bell said lighting plays a key role, transforming a pleasant afternoon in a forest clearing to a deep, dark night in the woods. “The lights really bring scenes to life,” she said.

Her roles range from a sarcastic bride to a serious count. “It’s a challenge, but it’s really, really fun,” Bell said.

McEvilly has directed “Story Theatre” before. He chose it for his first production at UW-Baraboo because it gives student actors, some of whom haven’t appeared on stage before, opportunities to explore multiple roles and styles. “They’re really having a good time,” he said. “They’ve really bonded.”

He hopes their enthusiasm — as well as their lighthearted twists on the traditional morals to each story — reaches audiences. “You can get the messages, and you can have a good time getting the messages,” McEvilly said.

Follow Ben Bromley on Twitter @ben_bromley