THE BASICS: This year’s lunchtime theater offering at the Shaw Festival is assistant Artistic Director Kate Hennig’s adaptation of four Oscar Wilde fairy tales. Christine Brubaker directs a cast of six. TALES, which plays in repertory through October 7th, has a special curtain time of 11:30am, and runs for about an hour. There is no intermission.
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: Three great Oscar Wilde stories for children–The Happy Prince, The Nightingale and the Rose, and The Selfish Giant–have been stitched together using a fourth, less familiar one, The Remarkable Rocket. I would say more, but why spoil it? Let’s just say that these are stories of surprising depth, moral rigor, and great heart.
Q: Wait a second, didn’t you just say that they are by Oscar Wilde? Hot House Flower and Mr. Dissolute, ca. 1890? How can that be?
A: Wilde’s public persona, in which which he clearly reveled, and theatrical legacy are pretty much of a fraud. He was, albeit secretly, The Last Victorian. Check out the beautiful, decidedly Christian Fairy Tales (of which this show is a fine sampler), Ballad of Reading Gaol, and De Profundis.
Q: So this is a family show??
A: Absolutely. It’s been subtitled “Stories for Young and Old”, although it is played as children’s theater. The stories deal with subjects like Love, Beauty, Pathologic Narcissism, Self-Sacrifice and Redemption. Pretty gutty stuff, but great and important watching for the 10-and-up set!
Q: Adults won’t be bored?
A: Not if they are awake and paying attention. And the timing is truly felicitous; until the endings of their respective tales, when they finally wake up and “see the light”, the title characters of The Remarkable Rocket and The Selfish Giant serve as hilarious, walking rebukes to our delusional, pompous, ultra-grasping President. (Thank you, Canada!). Sanjay Talwar is a hoot as the Firework that Fizzles. I’d also like to give a shout out to Jonathan Tan for his funny, beautifully crafted Frog. The whole company is spirited, and makes a real effort to be properly heard.
“…the title characters of The Remarkable Rocket and The Selfish Giant serve as hilarious, walking rebukes to our delusional, pompous, ultra-grasping President.”
Q: So are you going to break down and give this one Five Buffalos?
A: I’d like to. In fact, I always intend to, going in to see a show. In this case, we are let down, first and foremost, by the considerable puppetry. None of puppets “read” well, or are able to show any type of emotion. Some are ridiculously tiny. Specially costumed actors (as opposed to actors carrying plush toys) or video clips (a la ALICE IN WONDERLAND) could have really helped to put these stories over, but… Too late now. A couple of additional gripes: Kelly Wong, who plays the important role of the Selfish Giant, doesn’t summon up nearly enough in the way of initial fearsomeness. And, despite its high quality, I could have done with less of The Remarkable Rocket, which was divided into five (I believe) separate parts, for strictly playwriting purposes. But let me give some credit to designer Jennifer Goodman for occasional moments of theater magic, and to Siobhan Sleath for the exceptional, atmospheric lighting.
IN SUM: WILDE TALES is a compact, charming, family friendly show, and not nearly as pricey as the Shaw’s regular fare. Though it falls short here and there, it basically connects. Kids will want to buy and read the Wilde stories, which are a real treasure. Maybe you should read them to them!
*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)
ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.
TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.
THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.
FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.
FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!