The Grasshopper and the Aunt
Pantomime is a proud European tradition that I'm happy to see gaining a foothold in the U.S., thanks to theatrical funsters like James Peck, Amy Tetzlaff, Alyssa Hughlett and Sarah Peters, the team behind The Grasshopper and the Aunt, the holiday show now playing at the Arcata Playhouse.
As with any good panto, this production is based around a fable (work hard and you will succeed), but with an added twist — in this case, don't forget to have fun along the way. The title characters are pantomime classics, too — Gray Grasshopper (an athletic, acrobatic Hughlett) is the wayward adopted son of the very proper Aunty Ant (Peck in pantomime dame persona), resplendent in a floral pinafore, Wellington boots and a blond wig.
In a desperate quest to avoid repaying student loans to evil debt collector George Buttrock (a hiss-worthy Lucius Robinson), Gray takes a warehouse job, where he joins a team of robotic ant-workers (Amy Tetzlaff, Bayley Brown, Caspar Earle and Tushar Mathew) working for tough taskmaster Ant-thony (gruff neat-freak Kit Mann). But there's something special about one of those workers, Ant-thena (a delightfully daffy and be-tutu-ed Tetzlaff). Love is in the air.
Unfortunately, Gray does not live up to Ant-thony's requirements and gets fired; Ant-thena tries to stand up for him, so she ends up following him out the warehouse door. Equally unfortunately, George Buttrock catches up with her before he can track down Gray, so she winds up in debtor's prison. Time for a dramatic rescue.
But not until Gray has gotten a pep talk from sassy Super Fly (Bela Randles), launched a successful business and made millions (good panto always requires suspension of the laws of physics). Then it's off to debtors' prison, courtesy of a caustic Styx river boatman (Niall Kelly), where Gray meets up with a chain gang of rhyming debtors (Brown, Earl and Mathew again, in perfect poetic synchronicity).
On the way to the inevitable happy ending, the evil debt collector gets his comeuppance and everyone discovers their inner charitable selves (the "awwww" moment). Adding an extra dimension to the fun are the house band (Tim Randles, Dharla Curry, and Jackie Dandeneau) and the Blue Lake Community Choir, plus different guest artistes at each performance.
The Grasshopper and the Aunt is good old-fashioned family fun — audience engagement ("He's behind you!"), sing-alongs and, of course, plenty of opportunities for booing and hissing.
The Arcata Playhouse production The Grasshopper and the Aunt runs Thursday, Dec. 7 through Saturday, Dec. 9 at 7:30 p.m. Call 822-1575 or visit www.arcataplayhouse.org.
Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead
The Humboldt State University production of Bert V Royal's Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead, directed by assistant theatre professor Troy Lescher, challenges the student performers to reinterpret the beloved Peanuts kids as adolescents without losing the core of what made them so endearing as children.
The story begins with the death of a dog and a little yellow bird. The dog's owner, CB (Mickey Donovan in another excellent tormented-adolescent performance) conducts a funeral attended only by his sister (a strong performance by Amy Beltran), who's too busy trying on different personas to help her brother figure out what happens to dogs after they die.
The search to find meaning in his dog's death becomes something of an obsession for CB. His stoner friend Van (a very believable Isaiah Alexander) rambles on about spirits dissolving into nothingness or becoming reincarnated. Hyper-macho germophobe Matt (Kyler Teske in a promising HSU debut) has a bizarre theory about returning to some other vagina.
Things take a harder-edged turn when CB turns to Beethoven (Ari Edwards in another excellent HSU debut). Both boys are clearly searching for something they can trust in a world that no longer feels real, and CB impulsively kisses Beethoven on the mouth.
Meanwhile, Marcy (Addie Godinho in an oddly disconnected performance) and Tricia (a defiant yet insecure Madison Glee) are planning a party that, though they don't yet know it, will change lives. CB, defending Beethoven against Matt's "fag" accusations, kisses him again, in front of everyone and, as we learn from CB's subsequent visit to "Lucy," (a spot-on cameo from Lauren Zika), who is institutionalized for setting the Little Red-Haired Girl's hair on fire, that he and Beethoven had sex.
In the course of these struggles, everyone is left trying to figure out who they are, whether it's good or bad to be the same or different, what friendship means and, in the end, what happens when we die.
This is a complex play that packs a great deal into its 90 minutes and the content clearly resonated well with the first-night audience. It's unfortunate that the actors at times deliver their lines so rapidly that it's a challenge to follow all the threads, but it remains a powerful piece of theatre that delivers an important message, just as the original characters did.
HSU's Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead continues Thursday, Dec. 7 through Saturday, Dec. 9 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 10 at 2 p.m. Call 826-3928 or visit www.centerarts.humboldt.edu.
The musical meta-circus from the '70s that is Pippin plays at the North Coast Repertory Theatre in Eureka on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. through Dec. 9, with a Sunday matinee at 2 p.m. Dec. 3. Call 442-NCRT or visit www.ncrt.net.
Dell'Arte's heart-melting holiday show The Snow Queen plays various locations around the county through Dec. 17. Visit www.dellarte.com or call 668-5663.
Second-year MFA students at Dell'Arte get into character for their original pieces in the Character Projects Dec. 7-9 at 8 p.m. Visit www.dellarte.com or call 668-5663.