Review: ‘Foolish Fairytales’ at Faction of Fools Theatre Company

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If you have yet to experience a Faction of Fools Theatre Company production, then you are missing out on something truly brilliant and one-of-a-kind. With a Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding Emerging Theatre Company in 2012, and a Nomination for their production of Pinocchio! in 2015, Faction of Fools has more than proven the worth of their original blend of the Commedia dell’Arte style and modern stories and plays. As the Theatre Company website states, “We preserve and promote this Renaissance theatre style by both respecting its heritage and exploring its future.” A beautiful idea that they execute with ease.

Jack Novak and Kathryn Zoerb in Foolish Fairytales. Photo by DJ Corey Photography.

Producing Artistic Director Paul Reisman wrote and directed their most recent production, Foolish Fairytales. The show, as you may guess, covers many of the classic fairytales – think “Jack and Jill,” “Three Blind Mice,” and “Rumpelstiltskin” – but strings them all together in a single story. The script is incredibly clever, with literary and pop-culture references added in here and there.

The show was billed for ages four and up, but my twelve-year-old and I -10x older than the minimum target audience, mind you – were cackling at the wonderfully fun combination of absurdity, physicality, and wit. I was constantly in awe of the ingenious way each tale was woven together to create a fully realized story of its own.

And speaking of awe, the cast consisted of just four actors, who portray so many parts that one actor’s bio listed her role as “Jill/etc.”. That would be Kathryn Zoerb. She was joined by Danny Cackley (Jack, King Cole, Midas, Rumpelstiltskin), Tamieka Chavis (Mother/ et al) and Jack Novak (Fox/Dottore). They worked perfectly as an ensemble, with great energy and dedication to each and every character.

Costume Designer, Lynly A. Saunders had the task of creating costumes for the four actors, playing at least twenty characters in the span of one hour. That is no small feat. But with minor pieces here and there to accentuate the different characters, and nothing to overcomplicate a change, the costumes worked wonderfully.

In keeping with the Commedia style, the show was very fast-paced with interlaced comedy throughout. Quick exchanges and lightning-fast changes make it very easy for a show to falter in its pacing. But this group of four versatile actors stayed on track and escalated the energy right up to the end. The ensemble worked as a single body, quickly breaking apart and reforming, over and over, to portray a different part of the play.

Reisman created characters and plot lines that deviated from the original fairytales, which was necessary for continuity, plus it offered many more opportunities for humor. The villain in many of the stories is, actually, a friendly fox (Novak), who is constantly mistaken as a wolf. So, with a case of mistaken identity, Fox repeatedly finds himself in precarious situations when he’s really just trying to help.

Kathryn Zoerb, Jack Novak, and Danny Cackley in Foolish Fairytales. Photo by DJ Corey Photography.

With a mixture of wrongful accusations, exaggerations, and down-right lies, the conclusions of the individual classic tales still came out the same as the originals. Which is a pretty good analogy for life, art, social media, and society’s obsession with perfection at the expense of realness. Our lives are messy, complicated, and confusing. But chaos doesn’t make a traditional story. So, you take the main through line of the adventure, do a little nip and tuck to the details and, viola, you have a story with a beginning, middle, and end, and a lovely bow on top. Perfect for posting.
I may have been completely alone on that tangent, but that’s the sort of thinking this production company inspires.
Faction of Fools Theatre Company puts out amazing work and Foolish Fairytales follows that trend. The actors are superb – shout out to the cow (Zoerb), the true star of the show – and the script was a breath of fresh air from the constant conformity of traditional theater.

The Company’s next project is The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov, and I for, one, will be waiting in line, with bells on, to see what they do with it.

Running Time: 60 minutes, with no intermission.

Foolish Fairytales played through Saturday, December 23, 2017, at Faction of Fools Theatre Company performing at the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop – 545 7th Street, SE, in Washington, DC. For information on upcoming shows, go online.