There are those Fringe shows that contain racy material or crude language or both, but this is not one of them. The Sleeping Beauty – A Puppet Ballet by Pointless Theatre Co. is a clever and creative adaptation of the story by Charles Perrault that incorporates actors who are sweet and charming, a cardboard set that is ingenious and puppets that are simply magical. It is a show that is great for all ages.
This version presents the entirety of Perrault’s story: the first act is familiar to lots of us – princess, witch, curse, spindle, sleep, kiss. In the second act I discovered the Prince has a nasty, ogre-like mother with an appetite for young kids. She orders her chef to butcher first the Prince’s kids, then his wife, the Sleeping Beauty. The chef instead hides the people and serves the woman lamb and faun.
Some time later, when the ogre overhears the children who have been hidden in the palace, she is outraged. To tell more would give away too much. It is a great show. Go – and if you know some young kids in this area, take them with you. The show is only 35 minutes. Most of us in the theater Sunday were college-aged or older, although there was one tiny kid. I loved this show because I think it had all of us enthralled, and if I knew any elementary school-aged children, I would take them with me and see it again.
Frank Cervarich is terrific in the role of the narrator: he captures the tones and inflections of an assortment of characters. He introduces the show, but just before it begins, he tries some stand-up, which is corny, yet gives us an inkling of what will follow.
The performance coasts along with a vibe that is friendly and sociable: actors argue a little at one point about who gets to say a favorite line. Usually the cast members maneuver the beautifully crafted puppets, but once in a while they put the figures down and break out into pliés and steps from classical ballet with rather awful technique. It is a lot of fun.
The puppets range in design. There are two which are hand-held: the two children of Sleeping Beauty take the right and left hands of one actor. The fairies are creatures that look like insects and are held from above like marionettes. The witch is larger and manipulated by two actors, with one of them wearing shoes which activate the legs of the creature. Some characters – the king and queen – are large, Bread-and-Puppet-style characters. Others, like the Prince and Sleeping Beauty, have limbs that are maneuvered by a trio of actors. The actors are in full view with the puppets and I enjoyed the production’s spirit of showing-it-all. Cervarich even sat in the audience at one point during a particularly fierce battle. It was as if he too wanted to savor the scene.
I have seen many performances of Petipa’s Sleeping Beauty and enjoy its presentation of a fairytale by people who appear otherworldly – the extremely flexible, strong, thin dancers of classical ballet. It was creative to use puppets instead of people in this production because the figurines can simulate the incredible shapes of the dancers with a similar ease: in a solo by Sleeping Beauty, the puppet was positioned in an arabesque and her leg was lifted higher and higher until it formed a straight line – the penché. This moment was fleeting but it captured perfectly how the extreme training of a ballet dancer can turn the human body into a well-oiled machine.
Another moment which was a highlight: the witch transforms into a blue-faced dragon with bat-like wings, and as she is defeated, the male actor pretends to be suffering and says with a garbled voice: “arrgh my neck! my weakness!… I hate everybody…” I smile all over again describing this scene.
The set for Sleeping Beauty – A Puppet Ballet contains a large wall of cardboard with a cut-out square which serves as a smaller stage on the stage. Some interior scenes take place here and a curtain slides over the opening to signal scene changes. Designed by directors Patti Kalil and Matt Reckeweg, the set is awesome. The decorations on the cardboard look like a cross between wallpaper and graffiti.
Kalil and Reckeweg also designed the puppets. Along with Cervarich the performers include Lex Davis, Lee Gerstenhaber, John Hamilton, Alex Leidy, Devin Mahoney, David Olson, Ruth Ann Watkins, and Scott Whalen. What drew them to puppetry? I learned after the show that nearly the entire cast and design crew graduated from (or are currently attending) the University of Maryland. Jim Henson, probably the most famous puppeteer in America, went to UMD and there is a Jim Henson Artist-in-Residence Program, established at UMD in 2006, which offers classes on campus and instilled in many of Pointless Theatre’s artists a love of puppetry. It shows in their production of The Sleeping Beauty.
The Sleeping Beauty – A Puppet Ballet
based on the original fairy tale by Charles Perrault
directed by Patti Kalil and Matt Reckeweg
produced by Pointless Theatre Co.
reviewed by kate mattingly
Running time: 35 minutes
Read all the reviews and check out the full Capital Fringe schedule here.
Did you see the show? What did you think?