The Playgoer: REVIEW: Rapunzel

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Saturday, March 22, 2008

REVIEW: Rapunzel

Rapunzel's evil stepmom rides high in the "tower."
If you have kids, or are just a fan of children's theatre, it's usually worth checking out what's at the New Victory Theatre, who imports lots of interesting work from companies around the world at reasonable sub-B'way prices.

Personally I like going just to take in that beautiful old 1900 house--which has housed, over the century, everything from Abie's Irish Rose to burlesque and porn.

The current offering, Rapunzel, comes from the Kneehigh troupe of Cornwall, England. I was curious to see what they're all about ever since reading in Riedel's column that their more "adult" staging of Brief Encounter is the hottest thing in the West End and some folks are bringing it here hoping it will do for them what that other classic Brit-film take-off 39 Steps is doing for the Roundabout. (Who are extending that run, btw, at another theatre, so boffo has it been.)

Given that build-up Rapunzel seems a little underwhelming. The cast is game, appealing, and display some of the coolest mandolin playing around. But the staging is seems a little too small and casual to fill even a relatively intimate space like the New Vic. (Which does have 2 balconies after all.) This is the kind of show that could be a lot of fun at 90 minutes with everyone seated around on the floor so that kids could feel they were really participating and being told a story.

As it is, the Kneehigh actors do a fair job breaking the fourth wall and drawing colorful characterizations. But at two hours w/ interval, Annie Siddons' new dramatization of the legend seems to unspin and unravel more than the heroine's famed hair. She actually sidetracks the story away from the eponymous character onto other subplots that give no real payoffs. While deliberately trying to reinvent the story from a modern persepctive (Rapunzel is a feisty brunette, not an ingenue blonde) Siddons never breaks out of the old "marry a prince and be a princess" mold after all. Even if she does highlight the psychotic overprotectiveness of the girl's adopted mom (played cross-gender).

The second act is better than the first, though, with more inventive stage effects and some fun physical clowning. And the kids seemed to enjoy it. So if you've got some and are looking for something to do this weekend (it closes Sunday) and want to get them away from the X-Box or the texting, you could do a lot worse.

And, besides, it is a beautiful old theatre. Not a trace of porn left, really.


Anonymous said...

Huh. I only last week found out that Kneehigh was coming to town, and couldn't make the show, which bummed me out, since I'd enjoyed two of their shows when I lived in London--the Bacchae and Tristan and Isolde. Both shows I found both sloppy and appealing, and the Bacchae had a moment at the end, when the god was revealed, that was one of my favorite theatrical moments of all time. That said, it's easy to imagine them needing to cut things. I do hope Brief Encounter makes it over.

Anonymous said...

I saw both of those plays too (when I lived in London too). I agree: Kneehigh was sloppy in both of them, but with moments of brilliance and well thought-out invention that I have rarely seen elsewhere. A lot of fun dancing and revelry and cute irony, but they are always paying attention to their source. The Bacchae was in fact an excellent commentary on Euripides.