Thoughts & Musings

Odd But Funny Story Theatre

I had a helluva good time.

by Larry O'Brien, Broadwayworld.com
  • 30th November 201530/11/15
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[edited for typos 11/29]

STORY THEATER by Paul Sills is one odd little theatrical experience. It features music by the estimable duo of Atwater~Donnelly and a half-dozen or so actors performing the fables of Aesop and the Brothers Grimm. This piece originally opened on Broadway in 1970 and closed after 243 performances with three Tony nominations, including one for best play. Paul Sills has an outstanding pedigree in improvisation: in the fifties he opened the Compass Players, which was an early platform for the esteemed Mike Nichols and Elaine May; in the sixties, he was a co-founder of Second City improvisational comedy troupe (Gilda Radner, Dan Ackroyd, John Belushi and Stephen Colbert are among the alums). After leaving Second City, Sills ran several schools teaching improvisational techniques around the country.

OK, so Sills and the play are not chopped liver, but is this production any good? Well, Atwater~Donnelly are always good. Aubrey Atwater’s dancing and singing get the show off to a good start, and the duo’s vocals, which are interspersed throughout, help hold the thing together; bur STORY THEATER will rise or fall on the audience’s willingness to accept silly/goofy as theatrical fare. This piece (you can hardly call it a play) requires not only the suspension of disbelief but of a certain level of sophistication and knowledge of what constitutes a theatrical experience. Personally, once I had accepted STORY THEATER for what it is, I had a helluva good time.

So what’s it about? Once upon a time, an itinerant group of some sort beds down for the night in Trevor Elliott’s campground set and has its sleep disturbed by the nightmare of one of its members. To help him get back to sleep, they tell a bunch of stories from the Brothers Grimm or Aesop. The stories included “The Bremen Town Musicians,” “The Little Peasant,” “The Storyteller at Fault,” “The Fisherman and His Wife,” “Two Crows,” “The Golden Goose” and “Henny Penny.” Each cast member portrayed the various characters in each story. The show was a bit uneven because some stories were funnier than others. Particularly memorable were Steve Dionne and John McKenna in “The Fisherman and His Wife” (the special effects were pretty good here, too–boy, the illusions theater people can create on a shoestring!), and Valerie Westgate is hilarious in shades delivering a blues song about stolen pies. Trust me.

A couple of other quirks in this very quirky show were the casting and the costumes. Gender equity ruled the day in that director Erin Olson cast men and women with little regard to matching the gender of a character to that of the actor. And I am willing to bet that Ron Cesario had a blast looking through the costume shop for some of the outrageous and ridiculous getups the actors were wearing.

OK, so it’s not A LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT, and it’s not exactly a “holiday” show, as mentioned in 2nd Story’s promotional material, but once you let go of what you think you know, STORY THEATER is a lot of fun.

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