Monday, December 9, 2013

The Emperor's New Clothes Is Great Family Fun

By James E. Trainor III
Photos by Jackie Jensen at ICPixx

Kim Qual, Ali Heath, Greg Kilberger, Carl Brown
Iowa City - ICCT's lobby is decorated in the holiday spirit, and there's even a wreath onstage, but the current show isn't the typical Christmas story rotation. In a refreshing move, David Foxton's The Emperor's New Clothes, or Five Beans for Jack, directed by Krista Neumann, is a mashup of two classic children's tales, complete with audience participation, silly dialogue, physical comedy, and yes, maybe a carol or two.

The story begins with a fumbling Town Crier (Kim Qual) who, along with his somewhat more keen daughter Abigail (Makayla Phillips), stumbles upon a trio of tricksters who are new in town. Sly (Carl Brown), Wily (Nicole DeSalle), and Meanie (Helena Brown-Rodriguez) are passing off counterfeit money, picking pockets, and seem very eager to meet the gullible Emperor (Trent Yoder). When they hear there's going to be a parade every Friday, they ingratiate themselves and begin to come up with more and more expenses, including a robe made out of a fabric so delicate it's invisible. In the meantime, they are able to trick Jack (Kirk Saylor) with a pouch of magic beans, much to the chagrin of his angry mother (Ariane Parkes-Perret).

The mixing of the two fairy tales works fairly well, though there are some awkward moments. The entire business with the beanstalk happens offstage, including the ogre, and Jack simply rushes on with an axe in time to become the boy in the parade who innocently points out that the Emperor has no clothes. It works, but it feels a bit pat, and it would have been nice to see a more elegant solution, or even to see the giant lumber onstage. The piece, however, already has its share of fun antagonists, so maybe Foxton simply thought this was unnecessary. The script in general is very successful, full of recognizable characters, places for the audience to chime in, and bits of whimsy and silliness that kids love.

Helena Brown-Rodriguez, Noel VanDen Bosch, Trent Yoder
With Neumann's direction, the acting company realizes the potential of this charming show quite well. There are so many fun performances from this company. Yoder himself is full of comic energy, and plays the crowd quite well; his Emperor is goofy and vain, but likable. Noel VanDenBosch plays an excellent evil Empress, and feeds into Yoder as well as Brown and DeSalle to heighten the comedy. Brown and DeSalle themselves are wonderful, very much in sync, keeping the rhythm going and the laughs coming. Ali Heath (who plays the Treasurer) and Greg Kilberger (who plays the Chamberlain) are another great comic duo, both with great range, and some of the best scenes are the ones in which they struggle in vain to convince the Emperor to stop spending money. Phillips plays a great underdog in Abigail, who is captured for much of the show but never really lets up the sass. Phillips is a skilled actor who knows how to stay in the reality of the scene when she's listening to others as well as how to nail a punchline when it's her turn. Finally, Parkes-Parrot is a riot as Jack's mother, storming the stage and threatening the audience with a rolling pin in search of her wayward son. Parkes-Parrot is very funny and knows how to stick to a bit; her rampaging mother was a favorite for the children in the audience.

This is a funny show performed with commitment and skill, and it's just the right place to bring a family this holiday season. Go check it out; your kids will thank you.

The Emperor's New Clothes, or Five Beans for Jack plays through December 15. Ticket info available here.

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