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Once Upon A Mattress

At Dudley House through April 27, in repertory with Tennessee Williams' "The Glass Menagerie"

By Deborah R. Waroff

IT'S RATHER disorienting to watch a musical parody of a medieval fairytale when you saw the queen sitting behind a desk of radical literature earlier in the day. But Dudley House's Once Upon A Mattress is entertaining enough to overcome the audience's unspoken question of "Why am I doing something so normal in the midst of this?"

Essentially, the show is "The Princess and the Pea" seen through the jaundiced eyes of three professional comedy writers--Jay Thompson, Marshall Barer, and Dean Fuller.

In the Mattress version, the queen, Aggravain, is an all-American hen-pecking hypochondriac who sets up impossible tests for princesses because she has the hots for her son, Prince Dauntless. Felice Perlman rises far above her own experience to play the Queen with a Vogue-social-climber air.

Young Prince Dauntless, well acted by Pope Brock, is no traditional Charming himself. He's best likened to Judy Collins's "Hard Lovin' Loser"--"He's the kind of guy puts on a motorcycle jacket and he weighs about a hundred and five." But like the Loser, he comes through in the end to rebuff Mama's cocoa for the tomboy he loves.

When the play opens Aggravain is rejecting the twelfth applicant for Princess. But Dauntless's single status cannot continue forever--no one in the land can marry until the Prince does, and Sir Henry needs to marry Lady Larkin--quick.

Sir Harry goes on a quest to find an expedient princess. From the marsh he brings back Winnifred the Woebegone--"Fred" to her friends and Carol Burnett on Broadway. Carol Simon puts enough personality and energy into the part that Miss Burnett's absence from Lehman Hall is not tragic.

The show stays well above a hackneyed combination of a dominating mother and fairy tale. The lines stay fresh onstage. Aggravain's "Remember, blood will tell and yours didn't tell us quite enough," said to a flunking wife-candidate, is a lot funnier under Josh Rubin's direction than it is in the libretto.

And no show can miss with son lyrics like "I'm in love with a girl named Fred."

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