Monday, December 10, 2012
Theater review: See how Mother Goose handles the unstable economy
In a tale of good versus evil, Mother Goose's decisions could hilariously lead to her financial demise.
PLANO It’s that time of year again – a gathering of people in high expectation of the event they’ve come to see, drinking and eating snacks, cheering and yelling, and having a wonderful time together.
No, I’m not talking about a sports game over at Cowboy Stadium or American Airlines Center. I’m talking about a short jaunt to Plano and Theatre Britain’s annual panto play, this year entitled Mother Goose. In their 11th continuous year of keeping traditional British panto alive in our area, Jackie Mellor-Guin writes most of their plays whose stories are taken from storybook tales and given a melodramatic, and a bit bawdy, twist.
Whole families come year after year, knowing the young ones will have fun cheering for the good guy and booing the baddie and that the adults will find some “over the children’s heads” humor to keep them amused. There are warm up sing-a-longs, audience participation and the eating of yummy crisps and shortbreads from the concession stand.
A bit on the history of panto might be in order: I had no idea that it was introduced in the UK as far back as 1717 by actor manager John Rich. But panto reached its full popularity with the rise of the Music Hall in the 1880s. The heart of a panto is its characters, seen in each story, much like Italy’s Commedia dell’arte. The main character is The Dame, larger than life in shape and always played by a man. The Principal Boy is the romantic lead and a “breeches part,” meaning it’s played by a young woman. In the confining days of the Victorian era, allowing a young lady to display her legs was indeed an assured way to fill the seats.
If there is good-looking romantic hero, then there has to be The Villain to make it a proper melodramatic panto. And what good storybook tale is complete without the addition of The Ghost Scene and the chance for the audience to warn the characters?
In another interesting turn, while a couple of weeks ago several plays were dominated by The Word, this week seems to be the season of plays with a local or Texas turn. One theater has cowboys crossing the Texas plains while another gives the story of the birth of Jesus a Texas yarn twist. While Mother Goose is normally the “host” of some of our favorite children’s stories, this time the story is all about her and the town of Eiderdown, apparently near Denton and Flower Mound, just a few of the towns mentioned early on. And just when you thought the recession might be headed upward, times look tough for the goose and the townspeople. Mother Goose is woefully behind on her mortgage and the town’s stores are foreclosed or up for sale. As Mother looks to becoming another victim of the economy, a good fairy and a dastardly villain make a bet over her fate. Fairy Flit About finds a purple goose to lay golden eggs and saves the day for everyone.
But, in the important moral portion of the story, Demon Damon DaEvil casts a spell over Mother Goose, making her see nothing but her false beauty over her friends and principles. Who will win in this classic tale of good over evil? Well, you’ll have to go and see for yourself but I’ll give you a little hint – dear Mother Goose has never honked so loudly or looked so good and the audience leaves hopping and smiling all the way to the lobby where the characters await them to shake hands and take pictures.
As you enter the black box theatre, Darryl Clement’s design surrounds you with cut-out trees, and three flats onstage become MG’s home, the butcher shop and pub. I enjoyed the flooring, painted like large, puffy quilt shapes in shades of green. The back wall is storybook-painted hills and dales, secretly revealing a fantasy location later in the play. All the action takes place in front of the set for plenty of room to interact with the audience; no fourth wall is to be found anywhere. Jason Lynch’s lighting design makes sure no actor is left in shadows and the dark blue/purple flashes each time the villain enters or exits emphasizes the evilness.
Those essential golden eggs, the fairy’s magic wand, protest signs and other appropriate props are nicely made by Clement and Sue Birch who also directed this panto. And once again, Tory Padden has brought her talent in putting together the costumes for Mother Goose. However, I had many questions while watching the show, one of which is the same as when I last saw the theatre’s panto. When I say that the characters are in period costumes, I mean storybook period – somewhere between Sleeping Beauty and Heidi. Now, in good fashion, Mother Goose and some of the townspeople are in period, so why, when the town comes back onstage, they are in current dress as if going to Sunday church? The Squire is in a formal cowboy suit and hat (another Texas turn), making our main goose look rather old-fashioned and out of date. The Squire’s assistants are uniformed like flamboyant cruise ship captains. All remain in those costumes throughout the rest of the play and are, for me, a bit off-putting.
Dame Mother Goose is more fitting in long-print dress, apron and duster cap. Her purple ringlet hair is fetching and adds a certain je ne sais quoi to the old fowl. Speaking of fowl, both the egg-laying purple goose and Elsie, the bright yellow homeless chicken are creatively designed with big-feathered bodies and matching tights. My continuing confusion is in the costuming for The Principal Boy. Yes, we know he is a she, no problem. But even the slightest attempt at making the character look like a young man would be helpful in regards to the romantic relationship. The hero, Rodney Faffer, starts out in what can only be described as a sexy lion tamer getup, beige and brown hot pants jumpsuit with fishnet hose and knee high cowboy boots. Shoulder length hair is pulled back in a short ponytail but nothing on the actress denotes male. Act II is no better with Rodney in a mini skirt dress, brown leather jacket and said boots. Again, no hint of male, which makes the scenes between “him” and his female love interest a potential whole other story, and not one I’d go into here. Wigs and hair design by Don Hall are curly, wild and free, though a few actors could use a good comb out.
For Mother Goose, anything goes and Sue Birch obviously directed her actors with that in mind. Main characters are free to preen and prance around, speak directly to audience members (one in great detail), and generally have a fun time. Katya Jonas, Alec Kirazian Jennifer Middleton and Jen Rainey play the town’s ladies and gent and some of the Puppeteers in the fantasy sequence. Middleton also plays Lucy, the gold-laying goosy and contributes to some of the “ahs” and “oh no’s” from the audience. Trey Churchill doubles as Puppeteer and Squire Fred, the Texas-talking town leader. His final action with Mother Goose brings loud laughs from the audience.
Octavia Y. Thomas also helps with the puppetry but has her best moments as Elsie the chicken, protesting said pot pies and scene stealing here and there with her squawks and hen-pecking moves. Much needed scene-stealing comes from the duo of Red and Zed, the Squire’s assistants, played by Nancy Lamb and Shannon Atkinson. Moving and gesturing in unison is fun to watch and you can tell they worked closely together to bring their characters to comical life, and are a highlight of the play.
Good and Evil could not be better exhibited then with Fairy Flit About, gowned entirely in white and silver, and Demon Damon DaEvil One in Goth-style black with red flame accents. Whitney LaTrice Coulter does indeed flit in and out from the side entrances, starry wand in hand, to help out Eiderdown Town from becoming a ghost town and thwarting the villain. She has a nice, simple little dance with Lucy and personifies the theme that goodness can be found in the strangest of places. Lauren Gao relishes in being the evil one. Strutting from all sides, Gao knows how to work the audience for maximum boos and hisses each time she appears. An added bonus is the surprising and beautifully sung duet between Coulter and Gao – who knew a fairy and a demon could have such great voices?!
The Principal Boy and Mother Goose’s friend and assistant, Rodney Faffer is admiringly played by Audrey Ahern. I use the word admiringly because her part is poorly written and gives the actor little to do except “faff” around when her character is overwhelmed or perplexed. Ahern is energetic throughout and works well with the audience, getting them to stay in the story by continually helping her character out when in need. But that’s the extent of the role. Even when Rodney sees his love, Ms. Fairy Flit About, there is no chemistry between them and it’s a one-note character, not at all due to Ahern’s performance.
The main honker and the play’s title character is Mother Goose, played by Nathaniel P. Reid. As is tradition, Dame Goose is well-endowed, front and behind, and therefore excessively predominate onstage. Reid is a master of the strut, though smaller-stepped in heeled boots. He knows exactly who to pinpoint as his “target” from the audience and flirts in both a nice and a bit naughty fashion (“Well, I do, but not in public!”), to the delight of all, including the flirtee. In such a getup as Mother Goose wears, especially in the second act, and with her gaudy blue eye shadow, drawn-on eyebrows and rouged cheeks, you would think the actor could take nothing less than full attention. But Reid doesn’t chew the curtains in this production, being a more demure Dame who’s less outrageous than other Dames I’ve seen but still playing his character well and to galls of laughter.
Theatre Britain continues to bring the DFW area a fun alternative holiday event, easily understood for the style of theatre it is as well as easy on the pocket book, a good thing during this season. With the mean-spirited nature of the recently-past election, the economy still worrisome on people’s minds, a bit of silly fun might just be what’s needed to again make the spirit bright and bring a little ho-ho-ho to the heart.
Pegasus News Content partner - John Garcia's The Column
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