Archive for Sunday, October 28, 2007

Rapunzel’ no letdown to viewers young or old

October 28, 2007

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The show

When: 2 p.m. today

Where: Lawrence Arts Center, 940 N.H.

Tickets: Adults, $10; seniors and children, $8

Ticket info: 843-2787

Excited children waited impatiently for the show to begin at the Seem-To-Be Players' opening-night performance of "Rapunzel," by Max Bush. Once it started, their attention didn't wander for the play's 50 minutes. All elements of the familiar story - very important to a young audience - were present, including the witch's formulaic demand: "Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair."

Ric Averill's sure touch as director brought it all together to please both the children and their accompanying adults.

As the drama unfolded, adult members of the audience realized how resonant the tale is. Beyond the children's romantic adventure story, the Electra myth of an adolescent girl's conflict with her mother was powerfully present in this production. One could almost feel sorry for Mother Gothal, the witch, in her pathetic attempts to hold on to her foster daughter, bringing her toys and playing children's games with her when it was really time to grow up and "run in the forest," as Rapunzel wished to do.

There was resonance, too, in the prince's visits, beginning with the very first, when Rapunzel was both attracted and repelled by this strange new creature, a male, the first she had seen. The scene in which Prince Derrick tries to teach her to dance was priceless, played to perfection by both, as Rapunzel is horrified to discover that this "dance" will not be merely a demonstration by the prince, but a mutual process in which the two must hold each other close and move together.

Despite the witch's angry blinding of the handsome prince and her abandonment of Rapunzel in the wilderness, the two find each other and the Prince's blindness is cured by his beloved's tears - the power of love. Meanwhile, she has given birth to twins - details properly finessed here - and begun to rear them in the forest, so now all that remains is to return to the royal castle and live happily ever after.

A capable cast of four played six characters plus the narrators. Chris Johnson plays both a sturdy and bearded Theo (Rapunzel's father) and Ballard, the prince's old servant. In the latter role, he offers sensible and cautionary advice, which Prince Derrick, like any spirited young man, naturally ignores. Patrick Weaver is suitably noble as the prince and projects neatly his character's impetuousness and readiness for romance.

Diane Bulan is splendid as Mother Gothal, radiating determination to have a daughter of her own and to keep her against all comers. Bulan's movement, voice and expression eloquently convey the cunning and power we expect from a witch.

Elizabeth Sullivan shines first as Helga, Rapunzel's mother, and then as Rapunzel herself, sporting a more-than-floor-length braid of blond hair. Her adolescent moping as Mother Gothal fails to amuse her are a treat to watch - unless perhaps one has spent too much time parenting an adolescent girl recently. And she sings charmingly in the tower and the forest, with music composed by Ric Averill.

A simple but vivid set by Alex Coppaken, effective lighting by Lee Saylor and incidental music by Averill and Tim and Grace Clark (piano, clarinet, harp, French horn and percussion) fit the mood of the play quite well.

Dean Bevan is professor emeritus of English at Baker University. He can be reached at bevan@ku.edu.

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