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|A CurtainUp Review
wo English Tales
A Kids Show-- for Ages 4 to 9B
The Berkshire Theatre Festival's Theatre for Young Audiences has long been a favorite with young residents and visitors to this area. The good news this year is that, BTF has moved its plays from under the tent inside its Unicorn stage. While the tent was lots of fun, there's something special for a youngster to sit inside a "real" theater, especially one that's not too big and with perfect sight lines from every seat.
As luck would have it the first performance of this year's July offering coincided with a visit from my favorite pre-school "colleague", 5-year-old Jack Bloom Sommer. So off we went to see Two English Tales -- "Cap O'Rushes" and "Childe Rowland". Adapted and directed by Cassandra Johnson and performed by eight members of the BTF training program, these stories contain all the elements typical to traditional fairy tales. Goodness triumphs over injustice, magic works as magic should and all ends happily..
The first story, "Cap O'Rushes" starts out like Shakespeare's King Lear, with a king demanding expressions of love from his daughters in order to decide who should follow in his kingly footsteps. When the youngest and most honorable is cast out of the kingdom because she refuses to be insincere, the story takes a Cinderella turn but with some interesting twists, notably the absence of the wicked stepsisters and stepmother.
In "Childe Rowland" there's a reversal of roles. This time the family we meet is headed by a queen with two sons and a daughter. At the story's center is the magician Merlin and before those turned to stone once again become flesh and blood people there's a very satisfying fight scene. I thought Jack who is a devotee of all manner of super heroes and loves sword play would find "Cap O'Rushes" a bit tame and prefer "Childe Rowland". Being a most generous critic, however, he declared quite firmly that he liked both.
Both of us liked the costumes and the Kabuki dance movements. I, having seen Life's A Dream (link at end) on this same stage less than a week earlier, was pleased to see this children's production make good use of that play's dramatic mirrored panels on wheels. On the other hand, I was disappointed that this show didn't emulate the adult play by making use of the theater's aisles and the boxes at the top of the steps at either side of the orchestra. Instead, the two stories remain firmly grounded on the stage. I think the audience would have a stronger sense of involvement if some of the actors, especially Merlin, were directed to take advantage of the architecture of this wonderful space . Maybe this will happen in August when the program changes to Mr. A's Amazing Maze Plays by Alan Ackbourn (which will play its first week at the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield before wending its way down to the Unicorn).