The best $5 you’ll spend this year

I realized last night I’d completely dropped the ball on this – The Studio Theater is doing a companion reading to their play The Pillowman, called Nightmares and Pillow Tales. I’ll endeavor to write up my experience at the Pillowman this weekend, but you’ve got several more weeks to catch it, wheras these readings are a four-time-only deal, the last two performances of which are today and tomorrow at 5pm. Stop reading and GO – this article will still be here when you get back.

In a nutshell, this is a little over an hour of dramatic reading of stories in the scary childhood tale genre. If you’re skeptical about what a troupe of talented actors can bring to some material when limited to standing in front of some music stands and without costumes beyond a black and gray outfits with a splash of red…. then you haven’t been to this reading.

The stories themselves range from some classics to some folk tales re-worked by Anne Sexton to a twist on the story of The Pied Piper which comes from the Pillowman. They’re enjoyable in and of themselves, but the actors bring excellent depth and a touch of humor with their delivery and expression. Director Keith Alan Baker adds some fun touches to the readings by adding in some movements, a few visual props, and some sound effects accomplished by the actors tapping on the reading stands.

Among the movements nothing topped the laugh factor of K Claire Johnson and Carol Arthur speaking the line that introduced them as the dwarves in Snow White and then moving – impressively fluidly – to kneel and lowering their reading stand. Johnson’s facial expression when reading some of the more weird and disturbing details about the preparation of Snow White’s body was similarly a big laugh-getter. The props – giant matches, umbrellas, and scissors – accompany some of Heinrich Hoffman’s stories to good effect, though they are a mere fun bauble and the performances wouldn’t suffer at all without them. The tapping on the other hand, brought a very enjoyable depth to Little Kettle Head, where it represents her clanking speech.

I’ve no complaints about the show, though a few questions come to mind for Mr Baker. Was giving African-American actor Roma Rogers the part of Snow White a bit of deliberate irony or did it just work out that way? I’m inclined to think deliberate since two other actors get seemingly deliberate ‘typecasting’ across stories – Kate Debelack has run-ins with fire in two stories and Denise Diggs is an evil witch in both Hansel and Gretel and Snow White.

All the performers are good, though I feel like I have to call out specifically to two of the actors. Cassie Tietgen delivers a cackle as Cinderella’s wicked stepmother than would make Walt Disney jump for joy and Vince Brown’s expressions are a delight every time he lifts a brow or looks sharply to his side, whether he be the narrator in The Little Inky Boys or the ogre in Little Red Hat. He justifies the price of admission all on his own.

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