The words “puppet show” and “groundbreaking” don’t often share the same sentence, but DC’s Pointless Theatre Group is out to change that, one performance at a time. Pointless is building upon its outside-the-box legacy with the fantastical Sleeping Beauty: A Puppet Ballet, which stretches the confines of the intimate Mead Theatre Lab with dazzling artistry and youthful charisma.
Sleeping Beauty is an enthusiastic re-staging of the piece that won Pointless the “Best Experimental” award at Capitol Fringe Festival 2010. Anyone familiar with Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake will recognize his talent for lush, emotional soundtracks, which countless ballet companies have employed over the past century or so.
Here, director Matt Reckeweg uses the rich tonal landscape of Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty (Opus 66) ballet score as a backdrop for his company’s unique blend of choreography, puppetry, and world building. Reckeweg doesn’t hesitate to liven up the 120 year old ballet with a bit of youthful vigor. He lets his ensemble flex their acting muscles – including what sometimes seems like every single muscle in their faces – to bring fresh emotion to the well-known fairy tale.
The Corps de Ballet consists of Lee Gerstenhaber, Madeline Key, Devin Mahoney, Robert Christopher Manzo, Rachel Menyuk, David Lloyd Olson, Ruth Anne Watkins, and Scott Whalen – but it often feels like dozens more. The tale of cursed princess, evil witch, and gallant prince finds new life through the dancers’ exuberance and versatility. As the show opens on a peaceful kingdom, the company gleefully cycles through roles of minstrels, courtesans, and nobles with balletic poise denoting years of practice. They make do with the small confines of the stage, performing slightly compressed versions of the original choreography’s Piques, Pas de Bourree, and the like with all the energy of a grand opera house performance.
Soon, the puppets begin to appear, and the show’s true magic slowly slides into focus. Puppet designers Kyra Corradin and Genna Davidson dug deep into European and Russian folklore to build ornate characters that are both unique and instantly recognizable.
Princess Aurora, her parents King Florestan and the Queen, and the charming Prince Desire are adorned with ornate costumes and a timeless quality that suggests illuminated manuscripts brought to life. The Lilac Fairy (or Fairy Godmother in the Disney version) is something entirely new: a sprightly, ethereal creature wrought from living wood, equal parts Tolkien elf and African tribal deity.
The evil fairy Carabosse is also a sight to behold – a gangly creature with huge bug eyes that slithers about the stage like a spider. While this shambling goblin is impressive at first glance, it hides an even more amazing transformation that took my breath away later in the show.
SLEEPING BEAUTY: A PUPPET BALLET
Closes May 3, 2014
A Pointless Theatre production at
Mead Theatre Lab
916 G Street NW
1 hour, 5 minutes, no intermission
Tickets: $20 – $25
Wednesdays thru Saturdays
Details and Tickets
Patti Kalil’s artfully compact sets and props help to meld 1800’s folklore with familiar fairytale touchstones without feeling busy. Reckeweg and Kalil have stated that Sleeping Beauty: A Puppet Ballet is an amalgam of Tchaikovsky’s original version, the Disney film, and several other notable stagings from the past century. That the production delivers something for everyone yet remains utterly fresh is a credit to the company’s gutsy creative vision, which has vaulted Pointless from freshly minted University of Maryland grad collective to noteworthy DC theater player. On April 21st, they will receive the John Aniello Award for Outstanding Emerging Theatre Company at the Helen Hayes Awards.
Inside the cozy Mead Theater Lab, the members of Pointless Theatre are carving out an exciting new theatrical niche, and they look like they’re having a blast. Sometimes, big things do come in small packages.
Sleeping Beauty: A Puppet Ballet . Music by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky . Directed by Matt Reckeweg . Additional Artistic Direction by Patti Kalil . Featuring Lee Gerstenhaber, Madeline Key, Devin Mahoney, Robert Christopher Manzo, Rachel Menyuk, David Lloyd Olson, Ruth Anne Watkins, and Scott Whalen . Produced by Pointless Theatre . Reviewed by Ben Demers.