If you’ve ever strolled down the children’s literature section at the bookstore, picked up a title that’s only ten or twenty pages long and thought “this doesn’t look so hard… I could write one of these,” I dare you to try.
Leo Lionni, Judy Blume, Stan and Jan Berenstain, Roald Dahl… these people are household names because they did something really difficult. Engaging young children with nothing more than a story and a few pictures in the age when everyone, even kids, has an iPad surgically implanted in their hand is a major achievement.
With that in mind, I’ll say up front that the creators of Good Egg Fables deserve credit for taking on the challenge, even if the result is less than perfect.
Good Egg Fables opens with the story of Roscoe the Rooster, who decides to leave his quiet rooster life for an adventure. After a few minutes of wandering and a handful of cock-a-doodle-doos (which we’re encouraged to join in), Roscoe finds himself in an enchanted forest full of animal friends.
Roscoe leaves us here to embark on a series of fables with the creatures of the forest. We first encounter a chipmunk and a squirrel playing games around a cardboard race-car, then two otters talking about friendship in their woods, then a beaver trying to protect his dam from meddling kids.
Each story – as all good fables do – comes heavily laden with a message: “It’s good to share,” “be honest when you make a mistake,” “we’re all part of an important community,” and so on.
The arc connecting all of these tales is that the “Woodland Games” are under way. In the end, the audience is entreated to vote for the animal they believe is most deserving of a special honor at the games.
Good Egg Fables
by Good Egg Community Theatre artists
Directed by Jessica Lloyd Krenek and Emily Jane Warheit
Details and tickets
If that all sounds about as entertaining as an eye infection, remember that this one’s not for you – it’s for the little ones. So how does it hold up?
The result is a little strained, though there are some high points that will perk up the kids in the audience. A chorus of “she’ll be comin’ round the mountain” was charming and energetic, and watching “Super Chipmunk” repeatedly knock over her friend’s tower of blocks was good for a chuckle (though I’m guessing that’s not supposed to be the takeaway).
Much of the rest of Good Egg Fables, however, is not so memorable. The fables are more outlined than scripted, creating some occasionally awkward moments that are stumbled over, as well as a few punchlines that never land.
There’s also unfortunately not a lot about the fables themselves that are particularly compelling. The Berenstain Bears might not be the thing you reach for at bedtime (unless you have kids), but if you’ve read them you know they have well-thought out stories, defined characters, and a message that’s more subtle than ham-fisted.
I didn’t walk away from Good Egg Fables with a good sense of what I’d just seen. The message they intended to imbue in the audience was certainly hung out there for us to see, like a single dirty gym sock on a clothesline, but I couldn’t honestly remember the names of most of the characters.
A good example: Mid-way through, after twenty minutes without seeing him, Roscoe the Rooster makes a surprise and seemingly pointless return to the stage. The cast asks us, “Remember Roscoe the Rooster?” In fact, I did not. But there he is! Cock-a-doodle doo!
In fairness, the audience was painfully sparse when I attended (with my son, I might add). That’s tough on any cast. For Good Egg Fables, which employs some Dora-the-Explorer-esque audience participation, it’s particularly challenging.
“Hey, did you see which way chipmunk went?” (Silence). “Was it this way?” (Silence.) “No? How about this way?”…
That’s rough, but these furry friends are nothing if not determined, and they get big points for a heartfelt effort.
It’s worth noting though that an “all ages” play is not necessarily something that anyone under the age of 18 should be advised to attend. Good Egg Fables is a play for kids ages 2-6, and they’ll likely enjoy it just fine. If your tike has been out of their pull-ups for more than a few years, however – keep looking.
The play itself is a little half-baked and the performance not particularly compelling. It needs some polish, a little character work, some music, and maybe a through-line or two to really become a story that kids can sink their baby-teeth into.
But the cast are clearly all good eggs themselves, and they’ve taken on a worthy task that’s thwarted many before them.
What’s more: The Fringe Festival can be a bawdy place, where nudity and saucy language beckon theatre-goers in every corner of the city. For parents who want to make use of their Fringe button, it’s a tough environment to navigate. Good Egg Fables offers a safe space for the little ones, to be sure, and there’s value in that, if nothing else.
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