Theatre Articles

REVIEW: Story Theatre

By Fr. Patrick Dorn, Jan 26, 2011

I've always enjoyed and found inspiration in folk and fairy tales, fables and fantasy stories, and I've always loved theater. Back in the late '60s or early '70s, with one brother in Vietnam and another protesting the war on his college campus, an experimental theater company appeared on television. "Paul Sills' Story Theatre" brought my favorite literary and performing arts forms together, with a somewhat politically subversive, turtleneck-clad ensemble interpreting classic folk literature. What made them stand out was that the group simultaneously narrated the story and played multiple characters. They had neutral costumes, played on an empty stage, and used pantomime to suggest sets and props. The Story Theatre cast achieved the distinction of having fun, making a statement, and looking cool.

With source material taken from the Brothers Grimm, Aesop and others, and an appreciation for subjects and themes of interest to adults, Story Theatre pretty much invented children's theatre for thinking grown ups.

Thanks to director Meridith Crosley Grundei's inspired direction and a cast of first rate improv comics with respectable acting chops as well, Evergreen Players' current production of "Paul Sills' Story Theatre" has awakened my second childhood.

Most of the political references have been removed from this production, but that doesn't make it any less subversive. At first glance, the show goes for non-stop laughter, and succeeds. This is the funniest show I've seen in a long, long time. But occasionally, when I thought about what I was laughing at, the message came through loud and clear: humans are a horrible menace to each other and to all living things.

There's not a lot of "happily ever after" in this brilliantly staged show, and yet the audience leaves filled with merry mirth, because in a sketch comedy, with no willing suspension of disbelief, no matter what happens, you can smile and say "just kidding."

A couple of the stories, especially "The Little Peasant," "Two Crows," and to some extent "The Bremen Town Musicians" are trickster stories, where the "have-nots" outwit the stupid and gullible "haves" in a redistribution of wealth based on cunning or determination.

There's a lemming-like mass suicide at the end of one sketch, a magical kitten gets punted, and a fabulous flounder unveils the real cause of Evergreen's real estate crisis.

Serial killing and cannibalism are recurring themes, and if you don't know how funny those subjects can be, you absolutely MUST watch the show's rendition's of the head-scratchingly strange "Is He Fat," the comically gruesome romance "The Robber Bridegroom," and my personal favorite, an uproarious nursery-school level staging of "Henny Penny," where the fox dispatches various gullible poultry in a variety of wickedly funny ways (kids, keep your hands off the power tools!).

The most potentially shocking images are abstracted into near harmlessness through the very creative use of cut-out prop pieces, surprising mechanical effects on an otherwise empty stage, and most especially, the ingenious use of shadow play, where silhouettes reduce the action to living puppetry. That kind of aesthetic distance makes the horror all the more delightful.

As a way of further suggesting that we live in an amoral universe, projected slides announce dubious morals to the various stories. And yet the show is never mean spirited, cynical or snarky. It's loads of fun, for the audience, and apparently, for the cast. It's as if they are saying, "Sure, the world is a mess, and people are running headlong into extinction, but WE aren't like that. We're just having fun."

Henny Penny is right. The sky IS falling. It has always been falling. But Evergreen Players' delightful production of "Paul Sills' Story Theatre" winningly suggests that we should seriously consider letting a smile be our umbrella.

Evergreen Players' production of "Paul Sills' Story Theatre" performs 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and closes Sunday, January 30, at 2 p.m. Tickets are $14-$18. Call 303-674-4934 or visit www.evergreenplayers.org for tickets and information.

 

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