Tag: Vanessa hughes
Six Dead Queens
and an Inflatable Henry!
Raucous humor amidst the Dark Forest
|Piccolo Theatre presents|
|Robin Hood: The Panto!|
|Written by Jessica Puller
Music by Tyler Beattie
Directed by Glenn Proud & Brianna Sloane
at Evanston Arts Depot, 600 Main (map)
through Dec 18 | tickets: $25 | more info
Reviewed by Paige Listerud
You’ve got to hand it to Piccolo Theatre for perennially bringing a bit of wacky English theater tradition to Evanston environs each holiday season. British Pantos are pure, unadulterated silliness. At Robin Hood: The Panto!, expect all the traditional British ribaldry—cheering the hero, booing the villain, and shouting, “He’s behind you!” when our hero is under sneak attack. The real fun of the show is witnessing full-on participation from a typically polite and respectful theater crowd.
Co-directed by Glenn Proud and Brianna Sloane, Robin Hood: The Panto! is the newly-minted creation of young playwright Jessica Puller, who authored their successful last year’s panto, Perseus and Medusa: or It’s All Greek To Me (our review ★★★). You’d better not expect something like the Ridley Scott or Kevin Reynolds’ versions of the Robin Hood legend—Puller takes a nice big swipe at those.
No, in this version, Robin Hood (Berner Taylor) looks hot in fishnets but has a head the size of a watermelon from all the hero worship he gets from fans and the media. An eager overreacher, Scarlet (Nicole Keating) just wants to be part of Robin’s Merry Men but Robin, Little John (Adam McLeavey) and Alan A Dale (Maxx Miller) never cut her the slack to let her join. Of course, it’s tough when one is constantly outshone and out-thieved by Philip, the Cow (Vanessa Hughes and Amy Gorelow). Rescuing the lovely Maid Marian (Kaitlin Chin) from the deliciously sinister and effete Sir Guy of Gisbourne (Ben Muller) is a weekly event, but this time a trek to The Dark Forest leads Scarlet to discover a magic spell book by which she can rewrite events as she wills.
Piccolo’s production shamelessly rips off “I Love Lucy” and every other old vaudeville bit and joke. When I say old, friends, I mean that, no doubt, many of these jokes and shticks were unearthed from the catacombs. But the cast excels at driving a sassy pace and playing every moment with gusto. What is even more important is the spot-on improvisation and interaction with the audience that they deliver. On opening night, an audience member trying to sneak back into her seat after intermission was greeted with a scathing “Nice of you to join us!” from Sir Guy. But our plucky audience gave as well as they got. Once the Sheriff of Nottingham (Vic May) got turned into a duck from Scarlet’s magic spell book, someone from the audience yelled out “AFLAC!”
Other memorable moments include Noah Ginex’s magic scene and puppetry design, as well as Vanessa Hughes and Amy Gorelow playing the evil spirits of the Dark Forest, busting out a power ballad just like the 1980’s duo, Heart. But the show really is about the pact between audience and players to have a ridiculous, raucous good time. To that end, bring your friends and family. And watch out for the whipped cream.
Children’s play best-suited for adult audience.
Piccolo Theatre presents:
Perseus and Medusa: Or it’s all Greek to me!
reviewed by Keith Ecker
Piccolo Theatre’s new holiday panto, Perseus and Medusa: Or it’s all Greek to me!, is a hilarious parody of the well-known Greek myth about a young, boyish hero who must slay the vile Medusa out of a sense of duty. The slapstick-filled production plays like a bawdy cabaret, with sexual innuendo and gender-bending peppering the piece. Adults will definitely get a kick out of the humor, which includes a character whose name sounds like a part of the female anatomy. However, much to their dismay, their children may also get a kick out of these same antics, which often are too low-flying to be over even an 8-year-old’s head.
This isn’t to say there is something negative about the baseness of the humor of the play. The original script, written by Northwestern alumni Jessica Puller, is self aware enough to make both the blue humor and the eye-roll-inducing puns entertaining. Its brashness itself is a joke, almost nudging the audience as if to say, “Can you believe we just said that?” This is especially true in a moment where the Dame, a clownish character played by a cross-dressing Andrew Roberts, is collecting dragon snot in a bucket with the plan to sell it as a face cream. Once a bucket is full, she remarks, “It would take me a month to fill that myself.” Although children might not understand, the adult’s in the audience know, we have ceased discussing dragon snot.
And although the piece really is a vehicle for a string of off-color jokes, there is a plot. The liberal retelling centers on Perseus (played by female ensemble member Liz Larsen-Silva), a young boy who just wants to fish. The center of town is the bait shop/hair salon, run by juvenile Linus (Dominic Furry) and Evander (Maxx Miller). The evil king (Vic May) and his daughter Andromeda (Laura Taylor) enter the picture, and, upon first sight, Perseus falls for the princess. In an effort to win her heart and at the request of the King, Perseus sets out to collect the head of Medusa, the mythical villainess whose mere glance turns men into stone.
From here the play becomes a journey story, with Perseus and his band of comical misfits overcoming challenge after challenge. The Greek god Hermes (ensemble member Leeann Zahrt) makes an appearance to assist the hero, and even the magical horse Pegasus has a cameo. Characters directly address the audience at times, and audience members are encouraged to actively cheer for the good guys and boo for the villains. There are a few song and dance numbers throughout, including a loungey, seductive tune by the voluptuous Danae (ensemble member Vanessa Hughes), who could be at home on top of a piano
The play is separated by an intermission, with the first half dragging on longer than necessary. But overall the script’s pacing is good, though it might cause younger children to squirm in their seats.
The acting is solid, with no weak links in the cast. Roberts delivered a stand-out performance in his role as the clownish Dame. His fluctuating falsetto and wild hand gestures were belly-achingly funny throughout.
Ensemble members Glenn Proud and Brianna Sloane shared directing duties, balancing the cast of more than a dozen so that the production never felt cluttered. Their talents really shine in the fight sequence between Hermes and the villainess Nestor (ensemble member Deborah Craft), which is a well-orchestrated example of stage combat and puppetry.
Perseus and Medusa is a fun, fanciful play, but be warned: this children’s theater production might be a little too risqué for its intended audience.