Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Jack climbs Sutter Street bean stalk

Ireland Bonds and Connie Mockenhaupt
Courtesy photo

The biggest challenge for children’s theater is entertaining adults. On that score Sutter Street Theatre, in Folsom, succeeds admirably with its current “Jack and the Beanstalk.” For starters, the ancient tale is adapted for moderns by Kathryn Schultz Miller, predominant playwright for children. Add to that Allen Schmeltz’ creative and savvy direction of an expert young cast, and success becomes unavoidable.

Of course we get some of the usual tricks, like audience participation, but the core of the success is wit and fine acting. The cast of four—experienced youngsters Kerrie Buehler, Ireland Bonds, and Brady Tait--includes the savvy Connie Mockenhaupt, co-owner of the theater and longtime professional.

Mockenhaupt starts off the first of her three roles as the Magic Keeper. In a sparkling purple dress with complementary fedora (costumes by Eileen Beaver), she boasts of her prowess to the other three actors, who at first scoff at her. But she quickly turns their skepticism to awe by turning Tait and Buehler into animals, at least temporarily. The action revolves around Jack (Bonds), who switches between male and female roles, and predictably swaps a cow for some “magic” beans.

Later, as Mama, Mockenhaupt instructs Jack to sell the cow. Horrified when he tells her that he swapped the cow for “magic” beans, she tosses the beans into a bush, which dominates center stage. Suddenly a long strand of greenery is yanked up to the ceiling.

What follows are some of the play’s funniest scenes, with Tait as an ogre and Buehler as his wife. In a grotesque black wig, he reveals his omnivorous appetite, declaring how much he enjoys eating little boys. Jack, meanwhile, is hidden with potatoes in a bin below the floor but later climbs the bean stalk.

Even more amazing is that the ghoulishness fails to faze even the smallest children in the audience, who take it all in with appreciative laughter. No mother whisked a hysterical child out of the theater. Afterwards, as traditional with Sutter Street’s children’s theater, the audience complimented and chatted with the performers on the sidewalk in front of the entrance.

“Jack and the Beanstalk” continues through May 30 at 717 Sutter Street in Historic Folsom. Performances are Saturday and Sunday at 1 p.m., and the show continues for about an hour. Tickets are $13 to $17 and are available at the door. For reserved seating call 916-353-1001. See also www.sutterstreettheatre.com or email mikonpro@sbcglobal.net.

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