In a double dose of fairy tale fun, several energetic young-at-heart performers give new spirit to The Emperor's New Clothes and A. A. Milne's Ugly Duckling. The production, entitled "Ugly Ever After," provides a much needed alternative to often humorless and lengthy campus productions. And the low, low ticket price of one dollar makes this package hard to resist.
Of the two short plays, Ugly Duckling contains the sharper wit. In Milne's story, a wino King (Winsome Brown) and vain Queen (Charles Guerrero) are looking to marry off their ugly daughter, Princess Camilla (Andrea Thome) to the eagerly awaited Prince Simon (Alexandre Schneiders).
But an ongoing comedy of errors and mistaken identities results in stylized mayhem and confusion in the palace. Clever cross-gender casting by director Billy Hulkower adds an uproarious touch, furnishing an endless supply of thoroughly silly, but funny, gags.
In one particularly tickling scene, the lusty King is charged with the task of teaching lady-in-waiting Dulcibella (Elijah Aron) how to impersonate an alluring princess. Aron squirms delicately, wincing with dim-witted charm as Brown gropes after her (his?) pert, irresistable tennis-ball bosoms. Aron's hysterical Dulcibella is reminiscent of Woody Allen in some of his more slapstick roles. And Aron's boobs stand out to such a degree that they seem to have their own personality.
Strong acting across the board saves this production from degenerating into romperroom antics. Brown, Thome and Aron lead the cast with their smooth delivery of often ridiculous lines.
Presented in Adams House's sumptuous Upper Common Room to a crowd of about thirty people, the two plays offer a true feast for the senses, complete with sixteenth century nudes and Disneyesque costumes. At last Friday's performace, a crackling blaze in the fireplace seemed at first a lovely addition to the baroque set, but gradually overwhelmed the audience with a steady stream of smoke that filled the room.
In spite of this eye-watering technicality and some mishaps with the music, producer Alicia McGill and set and lights chief Noah Herzog create an intimate fairyland palace right in the heart of Harvard Square.
The nearly straight casting of The Emperor's New Clothes and the allegorical nature of the production (God is repeatedly invoked, albeit ironically, as the ultimate benefactor) make it less immediately appealing than the knee-slappingly funny Ugly. Nonetheless, it too left Friday's appreciative audience giggling throughout.
"Ugly Ever After" is pretention-free. This is Theater of the Mostly Absurd, done well. Cheap, good-hearted and more or less polished (excepting the smoke-filled room), "Ugly Ever After" injects grown-up humor into the fairy tales of childhood.