Walking into the spiffy black-box theater for the opening performance of Aesop’s Foibles, part of Elden Street’s Players’ Theater for Young Audiences, I was cheerfully greeted by the sound of some of my favorite throwbacks in music history – Paula Abdul’s “Opposites Attract” among the best of the mix – with sound design by Beth Atkins. How could I not be in a good mood?
The 11 am performance of this delightful children’s show was an upbeat start to my Saturday. I was entertained by my favorite storybook characters – the tortoise (Colin Edner) and the hare (Annie Begley), the farmer (Shad Itschner) and the goose who laid the golden egg (Mary Frances Dini), the lion (Nikki Pope) and Androcles (Rodney Collins), the boy who cried wolf (Chris Lohr) and others frolicking about in clever costumes designed by Kathy Dunlap. Lion, Hare, Wolf (Richard Durkin) and Fox (Holli Tippl) are decked out with furry faces and tails. They, along with the other actors, have brightly colored face-paint representative of their animal type. The human characters wear Grecian togas and sandals to give us the feeling of the setting, and the muse Daphinity (Sue Klein) wears a sparkly gown.
The set, designed by Bob Bell and Susan Devine for the Main Stage production of Sarah Ruhl’s The Clean House, serves well for this production too, as a two-story home with marble floors for Aesop (Ashton Schaffer) and his caring parents (Holli Tippl as Mom and Scott Tousley as Dad) to live in and work for the Boss (Paul D. Rubenstein), and a home for Zeus (Adam Redden) and Hera (Cecily Michelle) in a lofty wooden deck with cushioned furniture covered by velvety fabric. Levels of soft white lighting accentuate scene and mood changes, with the switchboard being operated by Stage Manager and Producer Mary Ann Hall.
We begin with Aesop explaining to us how stories unfold in his head, and as he mentions them, the actors appear onstage with their respective partners in crime. Among them, a versatile character, Aesop’s Aunt Daphne (Nicole Redden) enters with the enthusiastic Grasshopper (Marissa Dolchich). During all this, we gain insight into Aesop’s plight and why his parents think he’s troubled and send for Dr. Sigmunda Plato (Erin Gallalee). Ultimately, the Boss arrives expecting to determine Aesop is indeed insane and send him away; however, the story takes a turn for the better when the Boss asks Aesop to share his stories.
Now, the real fun begins as these fables are generously acted out before our eyes. One of the funniest bits involves the Lion with a thorn in its paw, lunging after Androcles. Pope’s great physicality and comedic timing tickled the audience, children and adults alike. Likewise, Begley has many moments in the spotlight as Hare and owns them with zeal, interacting with the audience and taking pleasure in teasing Wolf. Her race with Tortoise is a thread that ties the action together. Throughout the storytelling, I was impressed at how much material Schaffer, as Aesop, memorized in order to narrate and communicate the fables perfectly, no easy undertaking, and for such a young man!
With the direction by Meg Miller, I enjoyed Aesop’s Foibles particularly because I was reminded of the things that are important in life, like the fundamental rule I often forget – “just be yourself.” This is a family-friendly play that seeks to teach morals to children and succeeds in a playful way.
Running Time: One hour, with no intermission.
Aesop’s Foibles plays through November 11, 2012 on Saturdays at 11 am and 2 pm; Sunday at noon on 10/28 only; and at 2 pm on 11/4 and 11/11 at Elden Street Players at The Industrial Strength Theatre – 269 Sunset Park Drive, in Herndon, VA. For tickets, call (703) 481-5930, or purchase them online.