Where individuality comes to play
Nicu's Spoon Theatre's energetic adaptation of the classic story is good fun for the grammar-school yet.
A colorful, interactive take on the well-known fairy tale, Nicu’s Spoon Theatre’s (Directed by Nicholas Linnehan, founder of Nicu's Spoon educational wing) second children’s show may not be sophisticated, but it’s certainly engaging for younger children. The performers consult with youngsters in the audience throughout the show, and even invite kids to get up and dance…three times, to be exact (just steel yourself for the Macarena).
The magical title character is played Borscht Belt–style by Matt Maynard, who delivers tricks and yuks in equal measure. His childlike fairy sidekick, Mori (Jessica Mazo), questions his desire to get his hands on a human baby, and ultimately helps bring him down. Jessica Weir is lovely as Annalease, the mother of the coveted infant. She often speaks directly to the audience and has a natural way with children. Michael Abourizk is fine as her husband, King Thaddeus, but an amateurish performance by the snickering William Hind as the grandpa (in his stage debut) reminds you that you’re not at the New Victory.
Still, this show is a pleasant winter diversion, thanks to inventive props (an umbrella for a spinning wheel; strands of plastic for gold) and lots of heart. Nicu’s (and Linnehan's) dedication to actors of all abilities—the King’s gal Friday, Lady Malcolm, is played nicely by wheelchair-bound Katie Labahn, who also serves as playwright—is also notable. Best of all, the price is right: While most other theaters charge $20 and up for their kid-geared productions, Rumpelstiltskin is a reasonable 10 to 12 bucks. Now that’s a great trick.—Raven Snook
nytheatre.com review archive
Rohana Elias-Reyes • January 9, 2010
Over the past year, I've reviewed a number of children's shows and seen an even larger number. With some exceptions, the shows break down into three basic groups: challenging, beautifully staged and performed productions from other countries; well-executed formulaic musicals based on best-selling children's books; and earnestly well-intentioned low-budget "original" plays featuring telegraphed messages and casts of mixed-level experience. Produced by Nicu's Spoon Theater, directed by Nicholas Linnehan, Rumplestiltskin falls into the last category.
Katie Labahn's adaptation embellishes the widely known Brothers Grimm version of the tale. "R" and his fairy friend Mori are bored after 500 years together; R decides the solution is to acquire a human baby. Meanwhile, King Thaddeus is sitting on the bankrupt throne of Marigold. His advisor Lady Malcolm insists he marry for money to save the kingdom, but instead he disguises himself as a peasant and ends up meeting a miller and his daughter, Annalease. Calvin, the miller, brags to the Lady Malcolm that his daughter can spin straw into gold and the well-known story unfolds.
Though there are opportunities for kids in the audience to dance with the cast and help solve the riddle of Rumplestiltskin's name, what drew my four- and six-year-olds into the show were Matt Maynard's cartoonishly villainous portrayal of Rumplestiltskin, several magic tricks interspersed throughout, and the somewhat odd turning-straw-into-gold dance numbers.
What I liked was Nicu's Spoon Theatre's, (and Linnehan's) wonderfully straightforward version of inclusion. Actress and playwright Katie Labahn performs in a wheelchair—it's not a plot point, nor is the character described that way; there is simply no reason why Lady Malcolm (or any other character in the play really) shouldn't be in a wheelchair. When she entered, my daughter turned to me and asked if the actress really needed a wheelchair, I nodded, she nodded and turned back to watch the show. That moment was a far more valuable lesson than when the performers turned to the kids in the audience and told them that lying is bad and gets you into trouble. With a $10 entry fee, Rumplestiltskin offers another kind of inclusion as well.
March 31, 2011
Dear Identity Theater,
"I want to let you know how much my students and fellow teachers have enjoyed your modern takes on traditional fairytales. We loved Rumplestiltskin, Pinnochio, and this year's Cinderella. The dialogue is witty and very accessible.
Your productions are so well geared to my student body from our 1st graders to our 5th graders, they all love them. Your integrated use of actors with disabilities has also made your productions great for my Special Education Students as well as my General Ed Students.
We read the familiar fairytales beforehand and then enjoy your imaginative retellings which help inspire our students with their own writing.
Looking forward to next year's new play!"
Laurie Greenwald Theater Teacher P.S. 50 Q
"... loved Tourettaville. Many thanx for it... I loved the entire cast, but Derrian is on my radar! Def. I also liked Justin a lot. He’s got a certain charisma that I think will serve him well as he matures. Stephan loved it. Thought it was touching and funny."
"Thank you very much for Tuesday's performance, my guys loved it. I look forward to working with you again in the future."
"Dear Nicholas and June,
I liked the play, it was fun, funny and awesome. I thought the facial expressions the actors made were funny. I would like you to come again. It was nice to meet you." - Student at Standing Tall
"The play was cool, fun and awesome! It made me feel happy and I liked the play. I thought it was hard for Mark. Please come back again!" - Student at Standing Tall
"Identity Theater Company visited Standing Tall a few weeks ago and our students LOVED the performance. We love having the Identity Theater visit our school regularly, as the performances are amazing and the actors themselves are all heart. Thank you, Identity Theater!!" - Coco Fossland Sellman, Executive Director of Standing Tall
...The most moving theatrical experience of all came at Cooke Center Academy on Macdougal Street in a basement room.
THE TRUE COLORS OF WEEDLE, the children’s musical with book and lyrics by June Rachelson-Ospa and music by Allison
Brewster-Franzetti, was staged for the benefit of dozens of students with Autism, Down's Syndrome or other special needs. Weedle Watkins is a lad who was born without any color at all; he’s “Mr. Invisible” and “Mr. Nobody” to his peers.
He endures constant bullying – “Leave me alone! All of you!” – which makes him woefully wonder “How did this happen to me? Why was I born like this? Why is everyone so mean to me just because I’m different?” Some head-bobs of acknowledgment came from the young audience members. Others leaned closer when Weedle asked himself “How can I get even with such mean people?” Indeed, Weedle got revenge – only to find it sour solace indeed. The studied faces in the crowd were surprised to learn that retaliation wasn’t the answer. But THE TRUE COLORS OF WEEDLE didn’t turn out to be just a polemic. There was much fun on hand, proved by the giggles the kids gave out – especially when a character got scared by the sudden appearance of an unexpected visitor.
A makeshift caterpillar costume was greeted with enthusiasm by kids who immediately filled in the blanks that the costume didn’t bother to include. And how smart of Rachelson-Ospa to include this creature which could morph into a beautiful butterfly and deliver the message “I told you that there was something beautiful inside me.” Weedle learned that “the colors were inside you all along” and that “there’s a place for everybody where all God’s children live in peace and harmony." -Peter Filichia, Filichia on Friday