The Light Princess is a High-Flying Adventure for the Whole Family

by Regina Ford

He may not be as well-known as the Brothers Grimm, but the 19th-century Scottish author George MacDonald wrote his share of whimsical fairy tales. One of his most popular yet particularly peculiar tales was adapted into a musical by Mike Pettry (music and lyrics) and Lila Rose Kaplan (book) and is now running at The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre through February 23, the first full musical production at the theatre.

The Light Princess is not your typical happy-ever-after fairy tale. As director Michelle Milne says in her Director’s Notes, “It’s messy.”

Prior to curtain, actors interact with the audience, challenging children and adults alike to play with hula hoops and to participate in The Light Princess guessing game. We are all made to feel as though we are part of the cast.

Wise Ones Flying The Light Princess

Katie Burke and Nicole DelPrete as the Wise Ones, Grace Otto as The Light Princess. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre.

The Light Princess is a theatrical journey of twists and turns for the family. The King and Queen (David Gunther and Gretchen Wirges) are desperate to have a baby. A birth is impossible because of a curse placed on the royal couple by the queen’s wicked witch of a sister (Julia Balestracci). Finally bargaining with the witch for a baby, a royal princess is born but with a curse attached. The catch: the princess (Grace Otto) is born without any gravity. Not only will she remain weightless, the Light Princess is unable to cry or experience emotions like sadness, fear, and love. The storyline twists further. If after 16 years the young princess is unable to experience any emotions, she will remain floating for the rest of her life (and the wicked witch will get to marry the king). When the Light Princess meets a handsome failed lyricist and iffy guitar-playing prince (Aubrey King), her heart begins to suddenly flutter.

The show’s quick pace begins with a flurry of movement and activity (acrobatics captain Olivia Rivera) and the Light Princess’s magical world comes to life with the help of Wise One #1 (Katie Burke) and Wise One #2 (Nicole DelPrete) who fill in the scenes with witty, often cornball patter and antics, much to the delight of the kids in the front row — and their parents, too. Horn tooting and clever choreography go a long way with this sometimes playfully disruptive duo.

The princess herself is wild, energetic, curious, and fiercely independent; she only feels freedom when she swims in a nearby lake, the water keeping her buoyant yet grounded. The king and queen want nothing but happiness and a “normal” life for their daughter, that is, what they consider normal: being happily married to a prince. They also fear the consequences of breaking the curse.

Strong women’s roles prevail. It’s the queen who stands up to adversity and fights for her daughter’s freedom of choice as wealthy and mighty husband prospects such as the Man of Stone (Danny Fapp), Man of Silver (Carlos Omar Venegas), and the Man of  Black Diamond (Adrian Encinas) fail to impress the princess. 

The Light Princess is the unconventional tale of two people looking for happiness in their own personal ways. The prince is not interested in marrying a princess and the princess wishes to make her own life, avoiding the traditional princess-like role on her journey. The prince and princess learn from each other. It’s the princess, determined to make her own destiny, who takes control and leads the way, teaching the prince about remaining true to himself while still embracing happiness with one another.

The ingenious touch of wireless floating is created by actors dressed in black who lift the princess into the air and whisk her effortlessly across the stage, where she perches on a distressed turquoise wooden tower (set design by Bryan Rafael Falcón) and where she appears to float over the kingdom below. Otto gave the illusion of weightlessness, delicately moving her arms and legs like a ballet dancer floating in the sky. The actors carrying the princess seem to disappear before our eyes. But for their facial expressions, usually laughing and mimicking the princess’s facial expressions, these actors just magically blend into the background. 

To create the lake in which the prince and princess swim, black-garbed actors playing Elementals (Danny Quinones and Olivia Rivera) make waves with silk-like sheer blue fabric as the prince and princess appear to swim through the water. This clever effect, along with Raulie Martinez’s lighting and Wolfe Bowart’s property design, makes for an enchanting three-dimensional lake. The simplicity of the scenery and the clever use of eclectic props (like a flying bird and google-eyed binoculars) add to the magic. 

The Light Princess is 80 minutes of musical and magical mayhem with humorous dialogue and a witty score, all brought to life by the talented Lisa Otey on piano. A unique fairy tale that embraces individuality, as well as the challenge of rising above what others say you should do, awaits you at The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre, 738 North 5th Ave., Tucson now through February 23rd. Tickets may be purchased online at scoundrelandscamp.org, over the phone at 448-3300, or in person at the box office beginning one hour before the show. 

Don’t Keep This a Secret

by Marguerite Saxton

When asked about theatre, playwright and director Mary Zimmerman states that she “really like(s) to try to stage the impossible” (Chicago Tribune, 2014). Knowing this, one should be excited to see The Secret in the Wings. Under the direction of Cynthia Meier one is invited into a palette of beige, burnt sienna, and red: the bruised colors of fall.  Soft amber floor lamps, discarded sparkly clothes, and an old wood armoire add to the nostalgia and mystery that come with fairy tales. Remember when your mom’s fancy silk dress became dragon wings, stacked chairs became a castle, and that decaying set of records became magical volumes of spell books? This cozy basement set, designed by Joseph McGrath, frames the organized and tucked away minutiae of life.  

Typically, a theatre audience is given permission only to particular images: ones that purposefully illustrate a particular reality. Yet in “The Secret in the Wings” the secrets that usually live in the wings were not hidden, but instead acknowledged and displayed with refreshing candor on stage, fully lit, and unapologetic. Because the set and costume changes happened onstage, the edges of naturalism and surrealism are blurred and the audience receives a peek into what is typically reserved for the shadows. This carefully crafted set is a blank canvas that transforms with each of the differing fairy tales; one becomes transfixed by the ritualistic movement on stage.  It feels like a tape skipping, being rewound, finding the start again, and whipping back into a strange unison with time.

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Bryn Booth, Patty Gallagher, Joe McGrath, and Matt Walley in The Secret in the Wings. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Rogue Theatre.

A tale within a tale within a tale, like a theatrical display of Matryoshka dolls (the set of small Russian dolls that stack within one another). The featured stories include one about a girl who never laughs, star-crossed lovers turned enemies, and an ever-present ogre. Decapitated heads, eyeballs in a jar, and magic leaves all added curious fodder to the patchworked storytelling.  Each tale stitches through another with a well-oiled choreography that relies on a rhythm like that of sand pendulums.

Patty Gallagher, Claire Elise, Bryn Booth, and Holly Griffith in The Secret in the Wings. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Rogue Theatre.

Patty Gallagher, Claire Elise, Bryn Booth, and Holly Griffith in The Secret in the Wings. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Rogue Theatre.

Most curious though, is the voice of the performance.  The stories are told with the authority of a 3rd grader – that way they are necessarily and subjectively honest, and still possessing an optimism untouched by life’s troubles.  The Secret in the Wings is what would happen if a child spun out of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, watched American Psycho one too many times, and then decided to recount their favorite fairy tales.  Absurd at times and absurdly funny at others, this play embodies a liminal space that is both harmonious and arresting. Throughout it you will find intentional blocks of silence that strangely syncopate with frenzied parades of choral chanting.  Thanks to the crisp ensemble work by Bryn Booth, Patty Gallagher, Holly Griffith, and Claire Hancock, what initially seems non-sequitur becomes an intimate portrayal of the way young girls bond. Another stand out performer is Hunter Hnat, the badly behaved son who becomes the wildly demonstrative prince who becomes the interpretive dancing suitor and so on until you’re not sure what began and how it ended, but really it doesn’t matter anymore because it’s just so damn interesting.

What really resonates is the exploration of our culture’s collective subconscious – something that’s been molded through fairy tales for thousands of years. In fact, some of the tales included in this production are upwards of 4000 years old.  With that said, this play does not sanitize the violence of the ancient tales. It gives you grit, double-takes, and lots of questions. It relishes in the strangeness of those stories’ ability to gingerly explain beheadings, incestuous relations, and murderous melancholy. And, like a fairy tale, this play perfumes the jarring morals in a saccharin haze, feigning fun.  But then, creeping in slowly, one begins to understand the allegory hidden beneath the playfulness.

Holly Griffith, Joe McGrath and the cast of The Secret in the Wings. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Rogue Theatre.

Holly Griffith, Joe McGrath and the cast of The Secret in the Wings. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Rogue Theatre.

More than anything, the stories that Zimmerman has adapted and Meier has crafted are laden with morals; they pose pretty significant questions for our time:  How does ancient wisdom fit into our modern culture? How do old world morals find their way into our new world ways? I left the theatre asking myself these, among other, questions. And isn’t that the objective of theatre: to provoke? To prod us into understanding our roles in THE one big, revolving story? To see ourselves unmasked, brightly lit, exposed, and uncomfortable. As this play reminds us: “We all have a tale.”

You can catch The Secret in the Wings at The Rogue Theater (300 E. University Blvd) through March 17, 2019. Shows are Thursday-Sunday with matinee and evening performances. To get more information or purchase tickets, visit theroguetheatre.org.

 

 

 

This Girl Makes You Laugh, Cry, and Feel

by Bryn Booth

Fairytales, though often universally beloved, can be challenging to bring to life on stage. Finegan Kruckemeyer’s modern fairytale This Girl Laughs, This Girl Cries, This Girl Does Nothing is no exception. This challenge was met with undeniable gusto in its latest rendition produced by The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre. The energy brought to this performance by the entire ensemble electrified the audience, both children and adults.
Unlike the fantastical journey we’re about to take with three sisters, the audience is greeted by a minimalistic set, dressed only with a few leafless trees and bathed in moonlight. The silence of the scene is only broken by Immanuel Abraham’s (Music Director and Composer) violin and sweet, soft music.

Feliz Torralba as Albienne, Nicole DelPrete as Carmen, and  Gabriella De Brequet as Beatrix. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre.

Feliz Torralba as Albienne, Nicole DelPrete as Carmen, and Gabriella De Brequet as Beatrix. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre.

Then we meet our three heroines—Albienne, Beatrix, and Carmen. They are surrounded by joy, comfort, and love. But after the death of their affectionate mother, their woodcutter father leaves them in the woods. They each decide to venture down different paths of life, and separate with the intention of returning to each other. Albienne traverses the globe in one direction, and Beatrix, the other. Carmen stays right where she is.
Albienne, portrayed by Felíz Torralba, has an unassailable passion for pastries and an irrefutable talent for baking and a surprising strength in battle. Torralba, with a glowing smile, brings a gentle warmth and a strong presence to her character. Her smile makes you smile. Her joy brings you joy. Torralba makes you care for this wondrous girl who is a feared warrior, and a renowned baker. The second sister, Beatrix, follows the direction of her father with the hope of bringing her own bright energy to the dark places of the world. Gabriella De Brequet is no stranger to playing characters deserving of bountiful energy. With a silly, and often, hyper disposition, De Brequet generously gives to this ensemble. She charges into the production, ready to take you with her. Finally, Carmen—played by Nicole DelPrete—who stays within the woods to care for those who cannot care for themselves. DelPrete is readily received by the audience as her portrayal of this sardonic character brought countless laughs and even affectionate tears to everyone. Her various ensemble roles also carried a similar tune of whimsical sarcasm. The audience quickly let their affections for her be known. Claire Hancock and Leora Sapon-Shevin who round out the ensemble, were clear stand-outs. Both fluidly moved between countless characters with impressive polarity. They are sure to make you laugh!

The cast of This Girl Laughs, This Girl Cries, This Girl Does Nothing. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre.

The cast of This Girl Laughs, This Girl Cries, This Girl Does Nothing. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre.

The strength of this ensemble is anchored by director, Holly Griffith. It was C.S. Lewis who said “A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.” Griffith made this production accessible not only to the laughing children in the audience, but to their parents and other adults who laughed with them. She shrewdly employs the use of old-fashioned children’s toys as stage props to nourish the theme of children playing make-believe. Incidentally, the aesthetic of the play was reminiscent of the make-believe games I played when I was a child. The nostalgia is palpable.
What makes this fairytale so special is not just the entertainment it brings to its audience, but the strength it encourages in its viewers, particularly its female viewers. It takes on the fundamental challenge of producing a fairytale which is the difficulty of taking two-dimensional concepts and placing them in a three-dimensional world. Old children’s stories often require even more suspension of disbelief which can generate unrelatable themes and characters. This does not, however, hold true for Kruckemeyer’s fairytale nor for this production. With an almost all female cast and crew, this play defies the stereotype of the damsel-in-distress. Instead, our heroines exhibit strong wills coupled with compassionate spirits. These three sisters had one thing in common, a need to help others—which is admirable, though one extremely valuable lesson is learned: you don’t have to burn yourself to keep others warm. This moral is wrapped up in hijinks and clever comedy.
The Scoundrel & Scamp’s production of This Girl Laughs, This Girl Cries, This Girl Does Nothing is a hilarious fairytale with a heartwarming story that can be enjoyed by all ages. You’ll want to bring the whole family! The show runs through Sunday, November 25th (complete schedule below) at The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre at The Historic Y (738 N 5th Avenue, Tucson, AZ, 85705). Tickets are available at scoundrelandscamp.org/this-girl-laughs or by calling the box office at 448-3300.
Showtimes:
Sunday, November 18 @ 2:00 p.m.
Saturday, November 24 @ 2:00 pm
Saturday, November 24 @ 7:30 pm
Sunday, November 25 @ 2:00 pm

Editor’s Note: Bryn Booth has performed with The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre in past production and does have personal relationships with a few of the cast members and the director. While she had no input or involvement within this production, we feel it is important to disclose any potential biases.