By Paul Sills
Co-Directed by Suzanne Richard & Ian Armstrong
Produced by Open Circle Theatre
Reviewed by Steven McKnight
Watching Open Circle Theatre’s performance of Story Theatre reminded me of the importance of play selection. This adaptation of several of Grimm’s fairy tales and Aesop’s fables accentuates the strengths of the company and delivers a satisfying evening of family entertainment.
Story Theatre has an interesting history. Paul Sills created the work using theatrical techniques developed by his mother, Viola Spolin, including mime, movement, music, and improvisation. (Her work helped lay the foundation for the famed Second City improvisational troupe.) Story Theatre originally ran on Broadway for several months in 1970-71 and helped launch the careers of performers including Paul Sand, Valerie Harper, Peter Bonerz, and Melinda Dillon.
This play depends upon an ensemble cast willing to commit fully to performing a variety of fairy tale roles, both human and animal (including dogs, cats, cows, crows, and a memorable flounder). Gusto is a more important virtue than polish or subtlety. With the help of co-directors Suzanne Richard and Ian Armstrong, this group of fourteen actors goes all out in a high energy, good-humored effort. The use of signing and voicing by members of the cast (which includes differently abled actors) is not only seamlessly integrated into the show, but actually adds to the liveliness of the performances.
The action moves nicely through ten stories, ranging from some scenes more substantial in length to others which are short one-joke setups. Highlights include the skits of The Little Peasant, The Robber Bridegroom, The Master Thief and The Fisherman and His Wife. All, however, are enjoyable.
The show is a fine opportunity for the whole family to enjoy theatre together. While young ones can enjoy the outgoing performances and the fairy tale stories, adults can appreciate the play’s deeper subtext. These stories are told against the background of a group of people who have suffered a non-specific disaster and are waiting for rescue. That artistic choice, combined with the projection of storm and disaster footage on the rear screen and a low-key but effective production design, add depth to an otherwise broad performance.
If you do bring children, expect them to be enchanted by the performance of Rachel Boyd, whose charisma and talent far exceed her not quite seven years of age. Her mother Lori Boyd, acting both with Rachel and separately, is also a star of the show. Among the other enthusiastic members of the ensemble, Joe Lewis and Elver Ariza are notable for the sense of fun they share with the audience.
Paul Sills passed away earlier this summer after a memorable life in the theatre. Open Circle Theatre’s production of Story Theatre is a nice little tribute to his rich legacy.
Running Time: 1:50 (with one intermission)
Where: Round House Theatre / Silver Spring, 8641 Colesville Road Silver Spring, MD.
When: Until September 13, 2008. Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 PM, Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2 PM, and Sundays at 7:30 PM. (Abbreviated Labor Day weekend schedule only has performances Friday and Saturday nights and Sunday matinee.)
Tickets: $15-$30 with discounts for students, seniors, groups, and military. For tickets call (240) 683-0305 or order over the web.