Reviewed by Meg Asby
Like many modern parents, I have reservations about the story of Sleeping Beauty: the focus on external attractiveness, an unconscious teenager, a consent-less kiss. And when I heard that Northwest Children’s Theater was doing a production of the classic fairy tale with bird puppets, I was certainly unsure of what to expect.
We were welcomed into the lobby by the puppets and their handlers. It is possible that a younger child could be overwhelmed (the birds’ eyes are large, as are the puppets themselves), but I saw only happy faces.
If audience participation is not your thing, avoid the aisle seats. Frequently during the performance, the actors and their puppets not only perform in the aisles, but also perch their puppets on the heads of audience members.
The show itself is very meta. The director bird sits elevated in the audience, calling for scene changes, talking to the actors, and making jokes about the business. These exchanges make typically frightening scenes (the cursing, the finger-prick) absurd and fun instead.
Perhaps the most delightful element of the show is its ability to marry silliness and social commentary so well. Without fail, I would write a note about a troubling element of the fairy tale only to have it immediately voiced by one of the puppets onstage. I was pleased to hear, “Beauty isn’t the best thing to bless her with,” “How will she fall in love if she’s fast asleep?” and the bilingual Sleeping Beauty described as a “budding botanist . . . [with] strong intellect and wicked curiosity.”
Also lovely was the nod to the City of Roses in the swap of the spindle for a thorn. And parents will be pleased to see how the smallest fairy responds to attempts to kiss the sleeping princess. If you don’t want any preaching with your fairy tales, this show may not be for you, but if you agree that “fairy tales are beautiful but out of touch,” you will likely appreciate the changes in this version.
The shining stars of the performance are the Evil Fairy (Camille Trinka) and Little One (John Ellingson). Trinka’s vocals are fantastic (I kept looking forward to her return to the stage) and Ellingson makes you root for Little One from the moment you enter the lobby.
It’s hard to address the –isms in fairy tales without feeling like a killjoy, but The Tail of Sleeping Beauty with Puppets! somehow manages to address the disturbing elements of the classic and still have loads of fun.
Meg and her family were given tickets to attend an opening weekend performance on behalf of PDX Parent for review.