Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Do You Remember That Old Joke

...about hockey?

"I went to a fight the other night and a hockey game broke out."
                                       -- Rodney Dangerfield

I had a similar experience Saturday. No, I wasn't at a hockey game. Or a fight. I went to a slumber party the other night and an opera broke out. Okay, my opening here is a stretch, but that's what happened.

It was on the Saturday in question when I attended a performance of the HMS Pinafore by the Chicago-based theatre company The Hypocrites in the Mulitz-Gudelsky Theatre Lab at the Olney Theatre. This is not quite your standard version of the Pinafore. If you didn't pick up on that by noticing the stage is mainly made of beds (like a slumber party) and has a big pillow pit in the center (with a sliding board leading down into it), then it will surely become apparent when the song I'm Called Little Buttercup is sung by the biggest, burliest fellow there. Having the cast all wear pajamas was another clue, just in case you still weren't sure.

Pre-show staging for the HMS Pinafore at the Mulitz-Gudelsky Theatre Lab at the Olney
Pre-show staging for the HMS Pinafore
in the Mulitz-Gudelsky Theatre Lab at Olney

Even before the play begins, the cast gets everyone in the mood by doing several pop/rock numbers while explaining the rules of the stage. Depending upon the type of ticket you purchased, you can have a seat (as I did) or mingle with the players on the stage. If you do the latter, you must be prepared to move around as the play progresses.

The actors and actresses provide their own music for this play. There are guitars, ukuleles, mandolins, a flute, an accordion, and a toy piano. Oh, yes, and a banjo. It is possible I missed something.

This presentation is very kid-friendly (the pillow pit and general stage set-up), but that doesn't mean adults will be bored. The story is still there, the songs (mostly), too, and though the gender rolls are reversed it doesn't make a difference. It's still the Pinafore. You can even buy a beer any time during the play - assuming you are of legal age. And I do mean anytime. You don't have to wait until intermission. There actors specifically mention this while going over how the show works. That's especially good since the intermission is only one minute long. Yes, one minute.

And the play does work for both kids and adults. Not many children would want to set through a British opera from the 1800s, but here they were having pillow fights with the cast while the action was going on. And it went swimmingly. Thankfully, the adults never got too rowdy. I'm surprised.

Best of all, the cast is very good. They played the instruments well and the singing was great. They didn't play anything too fancy (mostly strumming), but the fact that they were doing so while jumping on platforms, stomping through the pillow pit, and going both up and down the sliding board would have made that nearly impossible anyway! The sound in the Lab was reasonably good, and the timing (jokes, music, singing) was spot-on.

Of the cast, my favorite was Dana Saleh Omar who plays Ralphina (formerly known as Ralph Rackshaw). It's easy to believe the Captain's son, Joseph (Mario Aivazian), would fall in love with her. Any young man who heard her sing would surely do so. The two make their scenes quite believable.

Don't feel you have to make a comparison between this version of the HMS Pinafore and a more traditional presentation. They can both be funny, interesting, and entertaining. They are just different. If you have a chance to see this troupe perform, however, give it a try. And bring along a kid, no matter how old they are.

© 2018 K. R. Smith All rights reserved

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