Review: ‘Cul de Sac’ at Encore Stage & Studio

Encore Stage & Studio is currently showing their world premiere production of Cul de Sac. The play, written by Amy Thompson, is an adaptation of the popular comic strip of the same name by Richard Thompson (her husband, no less) and includes original music composed by Matthew Heap.

Alice Otterloop (Gabriella Flanagan). Photo courtesy of Encore Stage@Studio.
Friends of Alice. Photo by Larry McClemons.

Alice Otterloop is the four year old star of the play, and the story deals with being one’s-self and the meaning of true friendship. Cul de Sac, the play, does great justice to the original comic strip and its characters, proving to be a fun and silly show, with a touch of heart.

The entire production is put on, as Encore says, “by kids, for kids” as the cast and crew, with the guidance of the creative team. That team includes Director Chuck Leonard, Costume and Make-up Designer Debra Leonard, Lighting Designer Gary Hauptman, and Sound Engineer Drew Moberley.

Playwright Amy Thompson, also designed and built the set and props, along with Kristen Jepperson and Marji Jepperson. The set is built to look like a drawing, with the Otterloop’s house, a platform with a bed to represent Alice’s brother Petey’s room on the second floor, and the raised man-hole cover, which Alice is known to use frequently as her stage in the strip.

As in the strip, Alice has a vivid imagination and the creative team does a wonderful job creating her thought bubbles as live-action. There is a larger platform stage left and, with the help of lighting, projections, and clever costuming, Alice’s fantasies are acted out on the raised stage, creating the illusion of being completely separate from the “real” action on the stage. Many of the funniest moments of the play, are the characters’ imaginings, like Alice’s idea of what a Fish-slapping Bear would be, and the story-telling of Petey’s cartoon about Toad-Zombies.

Alice Otterloop (Gabriella Flanagan). Photo courtesy of Encore Stage@Studio.
Alice Otterloop (Gabriella Flanagan). Photo by Larry McClemons.

Gabriella Flanagan plays the spirited Alice, and her not-so-fun brother, Petey is performed by Xander Tilock. Alice’s best friend and often over-looked faithful companion, Dill is portrayed by Kostya Cook. The entire cast is a delight to watch and they each do a tremendous job maintaining the fast-pace and high energy necessary for the show.

Gabriella’s Alice is instantly endearing and grabs hold of the audience from her first moment on stage. The show belongs to her and she knows it. Alice is determined to make her brother more fun, and with a bit of meddling and mischief, manages to make the anxious Petey’s life even more vexing than it started.

Henry Hubbard and Caitlyn Knittig played Mr and Mrs. Otterloop, respectively. Kyra Radomsky is Viola, Petey’s love-interested of sorts, who Alice sneakily tries to encourage toward liking her brother with a feigned injury and a toy lizard.

Other notable performers include Alice and Petey’s fellow students, including Sofie (Elizabeth Rotherham), Marcus (Tyler Smallwood), Kevin (Oliver Meek), Beni (David Meyers), Loris (Kiernan Almand), and Andre (Joey Pickel), as well as their preschool teacher, Ms. Bliss (Lindsey Gradowski), whose interactions with her students were excellent moments of connection with the adults in the audience. Lindsey was at times completely bewildered by her students but always stayed positive and supportive, with a touch of incredulousness that any adult who interacts with children can relate to.

Petey’s toad zombies come to life in Encore's production of Cul de Sac. Photo courtesy of Encore Stage@Studio.
Petey’s toad zombies come to life in Encore’s production of Cul de Sac. Photo by Larry McClemons.

Congratulations to the cast and crew for putting on a show with a contagious energy, and also to the Creative team for doing such a spectacular job of bringing Richard Thompson’s comic strip to life on the stage.

Encore Stage & Studio’s world premiere production of Cul de Sac is a wonderfully entertaining production that can be enjoyed by the whole family. I went with my three boys, ages 10 through 7, and we all laughed and smiled the entire time. Don’t miss out on the fun and the opportunity to support our local youth and theatre scene.

Running Time: One hour and 45 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.

CDS 2016 DCMTA

Cul de Sac plays through June 12, 2016 at Encore Stage & Studio performing at The Thomas Jefferson Community Theatre -125 South Old Glebe Road, in Arlington, VA. For tickets, call the box office at (703) 548-1154, or purchase them online.

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