Children’s theatre fluff not yet matured
Organic Theater Company Presents
The Naked King
|Written by Yevgeni Schwartz
Directed by Alexander Gelman
at the Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln (map)
through June 26 | tickets: $29 | more info
Reviewed by Jason Rost
The idea of running a repertory company can provide several theatrical benefits, as it does in many European theaters. It allows the audience to see the same actors in different roles, gaining an appreciation for the craft, as well as allowing the ensemble to build strong chemistry. However, the key to making this work, and to maintain versatility in casting, is to have variety in your ensemble. With Organic Theater Company’s production of The Naked King, we instead get a cast of almost entirely white males in their 20’s. Throughout the production, there are several roles that would benefit from diversity in age and sex to add some depth to this fluff which the company surely is striving to do. For instance, while the male-in-drag characters are moderately funny, it’s not necessary to have each ‘lady in waiting’ played by a male actor. Actually, it’s funnier simply by juxtaposition if two are women and only one is a man in a dress.
Another symptom of a rotating repertory is that one show can come off noticeably more polished and rehearsed than the other. Playing in tandem with the delightful adaptation of Thornton Wilder’s Theophilus North, this cocktail of three Hans Christian Andersen tales in The Naked King is clearly a few steps behind. However, there are certainly moments of pure fun and humor in Russian playwright Yevgeni Schwartz’ 1930’s adaptation that Organic hits. It may just be that a few of the jokes have gotten lost, or lost their edge, in the adaptation from Russian to English. The stories chosen by Schwartz to intertwine are, “The Swineherd,” “The Princess and the Pea” and “The Emperor’s New Clothes.”
The play opens with our swineherd, Henrik (Jonathan Franklin) and his faithful sidekick Christian (Michael Kim Lewis). Henrik lures a clueless princess he has fallen in love with, Henrietta (a very talented Kristina Cottone, doing a lot with the stereotypical ingénue role), to his farm with the promise of a magic kettle. She naturally falls in love with the amorous young lad, even though they are from different classes. It’s the same old story, as her father, the king (Richard L. Gross) forbids their love and the kids run off. As the other plots of the fairy tales are encountered, they do more to muddle the plot than enhance it. However, there are funny bits throughout; especially Henrietta’s scripted insults Henrik gives her to dissuade another king from falling in love with her, in somewhat of a reverse-Cyrano situation.
Alexander Gelman’s staging helps keep the action afloat, utilizing every possible exit of the Greenhouse space to its full comedic potential. The examination of the weavers’ magical clothing is especially notable in one of the funniest physical scenes of the night involving invisible/non-existent clothing. The actors encountered a few hiccups in timing and fumbling of lines at the performance I attended. This is not to say this cast isn’t incredibly talented. Ryan Massie exhibits wonderful comedic timing, proving to possess the most innate ability to transform from character to character, including the king’s poet. The moments the performances fall flat may be a symptom of the repertory format. In Europe, casts will rehearse the plays for 6 months in this style of producing theatre. I can’t be sure, but The Naked King came off under-rehearsed in the end. Scenic designer Terrence McClellan’s 90’s neon-colored fun house frames are functionally smart, but the aesthetic lends itself to making the production more juvenile.
I can understand the attraction to doing this script as a group of artists. It has an immense possibility for fun, movement and freedom with familiar characters. Nevertheless, the script itself seems to have been too easy for this company as they tried to enhance it deeper than what exist on the page. The production wants to be an insightful look at these fairy-tales from our youth through adult eyes, but instead it comes off as a bunch of grown-ups running around acting like children with just a small handful of more ‘adult’ moments. Any one of the three individual stories shortened for a youth audience would be more effective. Schwartz’ collection is a constant hit-or-miss hodgepodge of tales that have seen much more wondrous adaptations on their own.
Organic Theater Company’s The Naked King continues through June 26th, with performances Thursday through Saturday at 8PM, with 3PM matinees on both Saturday and Sunday. Performances are located at the Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln (map). Tickets are $29 for each show. For more information visit: www.organictheater.org.
Photos by Joshua Anderson
behind the scenes
Alexander Gelman (director); Terrence McClellan (scenic design); Melanie Parks (costumes); Ryan Breneisen (lighting design); M. Anthony Reimer (sound design); Jason Shivers (stage manager); Libby Winchester (technical director); Josh Anderson (assistant director); Lauren Woods (costume assistant); Angela Kring (prop design); Josh Anderson (photos).