If you're looking to inject a little magic into the holiday season, Li'l Red in the Redwoods would be a fine place to start. Based on the classic Little Red Riding Hood folk tale, this production draws on myriad sources from around the world, including the cultures and traditions of the multinational cast.
The "Little Red Riding Hood" most of us are familiar with was published by the Brothers Grimm in 1812, but there have been many other tellings, both before and since. In Europe, the story dates back to at least the 10th century, and first appeared in print (with a much less happy ending) in 1697 at the court of Louis XIV in Tales and Stories of the Past with Morals by Charles Perrault. There are versions in North Africa, where it's known as "Kabylia," in Russia, where it shares roots with that other lupine tale "Peter and the Wolf," in the ancient Norse Elder Edda, and in many parts of Asia. We've also seen the little girl in the red cape pop up in Into the Woods, Shrek, and other modern morality tales.
Suffice to say that the students and staff of Dell'Arte have created an inspired and inspiring interpretation of this story for the ages — 75 minutes of song and dance, mystery and drama, and laughter that bring a message of hope and humanity in challenging times.
The story begins as the villagers discover to their horror that Penny, the Christmas chicken owned by Farmer Henry (Buba Basishvili), has gone missing. The Christmas chicken must produce the Christmas egg — so without Penny, there can be no eggnog, no joy, no Christmas. Has she been stolen? Has she been eaten by a wolf? Beatrice the Gossip Woman (Vide Tayebati) may have seen a wolf, but no one can understand a word she says. And the only clue, found by Clarence the Neighborhood Watchman (Yiouli Archontaki), is a scrap of fabric left on a fence. Mr Donald the Mayor (Robi Arce) opines in Trump-ish fashion that the only solution is to build a wall around the town, but Li'l Red (Erin Johnston) won't accept any solution that prevents her forest-dwelling grandmother from visiting for Christmas.
Meanwhile, Li'l Red's mother (Grace Booth) is embarking on a romance with self-described village macho-man Robert the Hunter (Jared Mongeau). Li'l Red does not approve. As she sulks in her bedroom, she hears a noise outside. Why, it's Penny (Kate Tobie), the missing Christmas chicken!
Li'l Red convinces Penny the safest place to hide out would be her grandmother's house. As they head out into the forest, Penny learns more than she ever wanted to know about Grandma (Tone Haldrup Lorenzen), who, in a nod to Perrault, is retired from a life as an exotic dancer in Versailles. Along the way, they encounter a stranger, who turns out to be Bako the Wolf (Yan Christián) in disguise.
Back at Li'l Red's house, the panicking villagers are forming a search party to look for the missing pair, which takes them on a whole other set of adventures involving GPS devices, hunting songs and a crossbow. A litany of mistaken identities and false assumptions follows, along with some stunningly groan-worthy jokes, before we learn that a happy Christmas might just be in the cards for everyone — except possibly the person who really took Penny.
Lynnie Horrigan's sets shift seamlessly between the stark, eerie Forest of Doom and Li'l Red's and Grandma's cozy cottages, and her costumes are in the best British pantomime tradition. Tim Gray's evocative sound design and Michael Foster's lighting perfectly support the story arc, and the ensemble song-and-dance numbers effectively punctuate the production. The performers disappear completely into their characters and are ably guided as always by Producing Artistic Director Michael Fields.
Li'l Red's adventure is a universal tale that is by turns cautionary (beware the wolf, whether animal or human, always obey your mother) and restorative (tolerate differences, trust that goodness will triumph). It's colorful, lively, funny and very Humboldt — just what we need to remind us what the holidays are about.
This is the 35th year for the Dell'Arte holiday show tour, and it represents the best of what the North Coast has to offer for family entertainment. It's designed for adults and children to enjoy together, and there was clearly a great deal of enjoyment being had by the packed Carlo Theater on opening night. Most performances are free, thanks to the generous support of local schools and businesses, and audiences are encouraged to bring donations of non-perishable food items that Food for People will distribute to families in need throughout the holiday season.
The show will tour throughout Northern California and Southern Oregon with performances in Cave Junction, Orick, Point Arena, Redway, Scotia, Bridgeville, Loleta, Klamath, Burnt Ranch, McKinleyville, Trinidad, Eureka and Arcata. More information at www.dellarte.com or by calling 668-5663.
You can still enjoy a fresh/old-timey take on a classic with the entertaining and sharply timed It's a Wonderful Life Live Radio Play at North Coast Repertory Theatre through Dec. 12, with Thursday, Friday and Saturday shows at 8 p.m. and a Sunday matinee on Dec. 6. See www.ncrt.net or call 442-6278.
Redwood Curtain Theatre puts the bug in humbug with Cricket on the Hearth, a musical adapted from the Charles Dickens holiday classic. The tale of misers and imposters runs through Dec. 13 with 8 p.m. shows on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, plus a Sunday, Dec. 6 matinee at 2 p.m. Call 443-7688 or visit www.redwoodcurtain.com.
Little Women Musical makes the Louisa May Alcott classic sing at Ferndale Repertory Theatre through Dec. 20 with shows with Friday and Saturday shows at 8 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. Call 786-5483 or visit www.ferndalerep.org.
More holiday fun takes the stage at the Arcata Playhouse with The Bigfoot Lodge Holiday Radio Hour from Thursday, Dec. 3 at 8 p.m. through Dec. 12, with 8 p.m. performances on Friday and Saturday, and a 2 p.m. show on Dec. 12. The variety show features guest bands, choirs and puppets to keep you laughing. Visit www.arcataplayhouse.org or call 822-1575.
Humboldt State University's all-female cast takes on roles of men and women in the backstage send-up Anton in Show Business from Dec. 4 through Dec. 13 at Gist Theatre. Shows start at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday with a 2 p.m. matinee on Dec. 13. Visit HSUStage.blogspot.com or call 826-3928.