By KATHI SCRIZZI DRISCOLL August 16, 2012
Two fantasy plays written by local authors are entertaining families this month with colorful characters, outsized villains and messages that all ages can enjoy. Here are their stories:
In their second summer at Cotuit Center for the Arts, Christopher Compton and Holly Erin McCarthy — co-founders of Theater Under the Stairs — started writing a play with the idea of “a child whose imagined worlds and adventures came alive in front of them.” That theme, they hoped, could help to share “the sense of wonder and joy” of creating theater for young audiences.
“We took common childhood experiences and made them magical,” Compton says in a written statement. “In our show, simple things like playing with friends and making believe can transform the world around you, and lead you on fantastic adventures. To us, that’s both the reality of being a kid and the reality of being an artist.”
With 15 actors, ages 10 to 30, and with both Compton and McCarthy writing and directing, they created “Frog: A Modern Fairy Tale” — an hourlong story about a frog named Lil (Nora Canaday, 11) who can talk to humans and a real girl named Kitty (Shaela Alves, 10) who loves to explore nature. The two spend their days sitting on a magic rock that can bring what you imagine to life to try to create the perfect story.
Some of their stories include silly versions of familiar tales like “The three little Pigs” and “Hansel and Gretel” but with different endings. Ensemble members become characters in the stories as well as the Figments, flies who talk in buzzes, whistles and gestures as they build the worlds in Lil and Kitty’s imaginations. The friends’ time together, though, is threatened by Kitty’s buffoonish, troublesome parents (McCarthy and Anthony Teixeira, who have worked together since touring in a children’s show in 2006) but the friends are helped by butler Boggs (Seth Gable, in a role Compton says the young actor has made “the stem of this play”).
For story and dialogue, Compton says they were inspired by Stephen Russell’s shows at Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater, family shows at Cape Rep Theatre in Brewster and particularly Pixar movies.
“What we wanted to create was a show that was for kids, and had the spectacle and silliness and lightness that can entertain a kid, but that also took its characters seriously,” Compton says. The girl and frog, for example, want to pursue different strategies when Kitty’s parents try to separate them. “Kitty and Lil aren’t dealing with life-and-death situations or emotional breakdowns, but they are two young (creatures) confronting a really hard problem.”
Compton has high praise for his young actors and how they’ve developed as performers and how they’ve created their characters. “Another principle we’ve stolen from Pixar is that no role is too small to be memorable,” he says. “In this show, no character is merely a plot point, and everyone has a chance to be funny.”
“Frog” fulfills TUTS’s goal to offer challenging and rewarding roles for females as well as its goal to share a love of theater and its possibilities. “I want to stress again how privileged we feel to work with these children,” Compton says. “We’re providing a small steppingstone for these human beings as they grow up and learn to be confident and express themselves, and at the same time creating a product that will charm and entertain” audiences.
It was decades ago when Jane Staab and Anthony Hancock first created their own family show for Harwich Junior Theatre. Script writer Hancock combined Lewis Carroll’s two books about heroine Alice into “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” revived now there by director James P. Byrne.
Staab says she and Hancock became friends as teens at HJT and were part of a group sitting around one night in the 1960s lamenting the quality of available children’s theater when a father said “Why don’t you write your own?”
Hancock and Staab — who went on to found Harwich Winter Theatre in 1967 with fellow HJT alum Sue Kosoff — took up that challenge. They wrote several shows that HJT founder Betty Bobp produced there, with “Alice,” based on one of Hancock’s favorite authors, among the latest. “Alice” later became the first play done in 1981 when Staab, Hancock, Kosoff and Andrea Genser founded the professional Wheelock Family Theater in Boston. They revived it a decade later, with the piece tweaked a little each time.
Byrne, who also directs now at Wheelock, played The mad Hatter in the first “Alice” there and wanted to bring “Alice” to life again. (Staab says Byrne is talking about doing the show again in New Orleans and perhaps at Wheelock.)
Staab wrote the music threaded throughout the show. She downplays her role because she says Hancock’s lyrics made it easy. The lyrics “just sang off the page,” she says. “His lyrics practically wrote the music for me.”
Her contribution this time was recreating the piano score when she couldn’t find the originals, then helping to teach the songs to the young cast.
Combining two books into one family show requires some cuts, so what will “Alice” fans find in this version? Favorite characters the White Rabbit, the mad Hatter, the Mock Turtle, the Cheshire Cat, the Caterpillar and the Queen of Hearts are all there, with Staab noting she used to be terrified of the bloodthirsty Queen.
She praises Hancock’s adaptation for “giving Alice the upper hand, even during the trial. Alice is in control, even if the Red Queen is scary.”
While the original books are close to 150 years old, Staab says what they have to say is timeless, and now is a particularly good time to bring back some of the characters.
The story “is reminiscent of the crazy politics today, don’t you think?” she says. “Everyone’s mad here, that’s what the Cheshire Cat says. That kind of works in this crazy world, and not just in politics. … (The play) is just as amusing for adults, on a different level, as it is delightful for children.”
In other theater news:
- “Cirque de Sea,” Kahren Dowcett’s show about the life of an oyster, now playing in Provincetown, has been invited to the World Oyster Symposium next year in Vietnam. Dowcett was recently appointed to the steering committee of the World Oyster Society (WOS) based in Japan, and Katsuyoshi Mori, a world-renowned oyster scientist and researcher, traveled from Japan to attend last month’s opening of “Cirque de Sea.” Dowcett wrote the play for will Oysters Save the World, a community and environmental initiative by the Living Arts Institute, which shares the same mission — increasing understanding about the oyster for the benefit of mankind — as WOS. Mori has requested the play be translated into Japanese and performed for his country.
“Cirque de Sea” runs at 7 and 9 p.m. Sundays through Sept. 2 at Provincetown Theater, 238 Bradford St. Tickets: $13.50 for children and $23.50 for adults. Reservations: 508-487-7487.
- The Times reported recently on four local connections to the ongoing New York International Fringe Festival, and we have another: Nathan Winkelstein, whose family has long summered in Wellfleet, is a cast member of “Storytime with Mr Buttermen.” One of five performances remains: 2 p.m. Saturday at HERE Arts Center at 145 6th Ave. The play’s subtitle is “fables for adults living in a modern world” and is a “multi-arts spoken-word musical” produced by New York City-based Mind the Art Entertainment from its poetry book of the same name. Information: mrbuttermen.com.
- Brian Miskell, a Cape Cod native, has been nominated for two New York Innovative Theatre (IT) Awards for Off-Off-Broadway theater: Outstanding Actor in a Lead Role and Outstanding Ensemble for “Eightythree Down,” by J. Stephen Brantley. His character is Martin, who “lives sequestered in his parents’ basement, until these three people burst in and terrorize him with a gun, stolen books, threats and flirtation and lies.” The show was also nominated for Outstanding Premiere Production of A Play. Awards will be presented at a ceremony on Sept. 24 hosted by comedian Harrison Greenbaum.
For more theater-related news and commentary, check out Kathi Scrizzi Driscoll’s blog at capecodonline.com/stagedoor.
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