The official Tale of a West Texas Marsupial Girl opening night was last Friday – and I believe it was a success. I must admit that the notes we received the day prior left me feeling rather lost, so I went through the performance taking into account as much as I could, but also surrendering to my own personal instincts and just giving the audience what I felt was right. It paid off – the director and I spoke at the after-party; he hugged me and said it was my best performance yet. I hit the marks he had set forth for me, but I also found the comedy and played it. Phew.
Now if I can only keep it up – we had two more performances on Saturday, two more on Sunday, and now only 55 performances more to go! Aiyee!
Turns out our two dailies, the Pioneer Press and the Star Tribune, were also in the house that evening…the Pioneer Press’ article is overwhelmingly positive, and the Star Tribune’s article is underwhelmingly positive (the title makes it seem like a negative review, but on the whole it isn’t…plus he calls me out in the last sentence – woo-hoo!).
Here are the articles in their entirety:
Posted on Sun, Jan. 21, 2007
A TIMELESS TALE, DELIVERED WITH TEXAS TWANG
BY DOMINIC P. PAPATOLA
The story of the girl who's "different" and struggles to find her way in the world is an old one. And in that respect, the Children's Theatre Company's world-premiere production is a wholly conventional one. But "Tale of a West Texas Marsupial Girl" delivers this timeless tale with a twang and a strut.
The title tells you most of what you need to know. Marsupial Girl — she's never given a proper name — is born with a furry pouch that can capture and hold all the sounds in the world. Such a strange accoutrement makes her a freak in her small town. When naive individualism and a bow to conformity don't work, she lashes out at her world, her friends and her family. It all comes out OK in the end, but not before some Texas-sized tussles.
Local audiences have seen playwright Lisa D'Amour spin these bent, fish-out-of-water yarns before. But they've probably never seen her do so with such blithe ease, such a warm and unencumbered heart, or such a disarmingly kooky sensibility.
The pleasing result of her pen this time is, I suspect, a combination of the fact that she's writing for a young audience, that she had the estimable, mainstreaming dramaturgical services of the Children's Theatre staff and that, in musical collaborator Sxip Shirey, she chose an aesthetic partner equally as willing to engage in some highly idiosyncratic and imaginative play.
Shirey and D'Amour create a funky, twangy, swamp-rocky musical where beat-box melds with country music and where interjections like "Holy puppy on a peach tree!" come out of characters' mouths sounding real and right. Director Whit MacLaughlin coaxes it all to the stage with cheerfully preposterous glee.
Anna Reichert brings a just-right, disingenuous appeal to the title role — she wears her emotions on her round, expressive face and sketches Marsupial Girl's joys and travails with subtle honesty.
But it's Luverne Seifert — playing a singing, hoo-hawing narrator named Dr. Pouch who lights the fuse on the story and keeps it sizzling. Windier and more unpredictable than a Texas twister, Seifert's antic creation — delightedly working a sound-generating thingamajig here, leading the audience in a dippy call-and-response there — guides us through this weird world. He makes it all seem … well, if not exactly normal, then at least like a whirlwind worth riding.
Is the script drum-tight? Not really — one more rewrite probably would have gotten it to a long one-act instead of a two-act endeavor with an intermission. Are all of the characters scrupulously realized? No — in fact, once you get past Marsupial Girl and Dr. Pouch, D'Amour tends to fall back on conventional archetype.
There's the loving, weary mother (warmly realized by Autumn Ness), the busybody ladies of the town (Leigha Horton and Marvette Knight, noses perpetually out of joint), the mean girls (led by Jessie Shelton as a rhymes-with-witch-in-training named Libby) and the avuncular old man who's the voice of reason (the rock-solid Gerald Drake, of course).
But is "Tale of a West Texas Marsupial Girl" an ever-resonant old lesson wrapped in a bright, unique and toe-tapping package? You bet your ten-gallon hat it is.
Theater critic Dominic P. Papatola can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 651-228-2165. IF YOU GO
What: "Tale of a West Texas Marsupial Girl"
When: Through Feb. 25
Where: The Children's Theatre Company (mainstage), 2400 Third Ave. S., Minneapolis
Capsule: Familiar fable told with Texas spice
Inventive 'Marsupial' lacks coherence
The narrative, though strange, is familiar, but the staging becomes jumbled.
Add to the Elephant Man, the Hunchback of Notre Dame, the Phantom of the Opera, a girl with a pouch. Director Whit MacLaughlin's staging of "Tale of a West Texas Marsupial Girl" has some highly inventive touches, from set designer Donald Eastman's Southwestern, carnival-touched milieu to Richard St. Clair's costumes and poofy wigs. And the singing, dancing and swaying cast at the Children's Theatre sells this imaginative play by Lisa D'Amour hard and well.
But because this stylistic mishmash does not cohere into something greater than its interesting parts, it's hard to buy it.
D'Amour is a complex, engaging writer known for her experimental works. "Marsupial Girl," which opened Friday in Minneapolis, is her foray into the world of children's theater. Its plot, about differences large and small, resonates.
As the marsupial baby grows and her body pocket becomes furry, she uses it like both backpack and at-will voice box. She discovers early that she can catch and store sounds in her pouch, an ability that becomes important when her community recoils from her, closing down her world.
The ostracized Marsupial Girl eventually begins to behave like the scary freak and monster that they insist that she is, capturing the voices and silencing the critical, misunderstanding community.
As strange as "Marsupial Girl" may seem -- and there's more than a touch of the gothic in MacLaughlin's staging -- its outsider narrative is familiar. It is in the telling of "Marsupial Girl" where the jumbled elements make the production list. The staging, infused with Sxip Shirey's twangy hip-hop compositions, seems to be of too many minds.
It uses Adam Matta's clever beat-box percussion overlaid with guitar and mouth harp that suggests something hip and urban. It also deploys straight musical compositions that make you think of Broadway. Then there is the nod to spelling bees, with characters holding up letters.
That would be disconcerting enough without a mother (played with deep affection and knowing by Autumn Ness) who did not name her child. Perhaps she was so traumatized to have such a baby, she could not come up with a name. That lack of naming creates a dramaturgical distance from the main character, a feature that's similar to one that we saw also in "Anon(nymous)," which premiered at the Children's Theatre last year.
Thankfully, Anna Reichert, who plays Marsupial Girl, gives her the life that makes us care about her.
In fact, the cast invests this story with much energy and enthusiasm. The roster includes Luverne Seifert, whose Dr. Pouch is a gung-ho guardian angel-type figure who narrates; the ever-resourceful Gerald Drake as a doctor and community member; and Kelsie Jepsen as a schoolteacher.
Nadia Hulett, Jessie Shelton and Teresa Marie Doran are credible as Marsupial Girl's youthful cohorts, while Leigha Horton makes an auspicious Children's Theatre debut in a variety of roles.
Rohan Preston • 612-673-4390 • email@example.com
©2007 Star Tribune. All rights reserved.