Review: Rising to the Challenge of Children’s Theatre. ‘A Sock’s Fables’ by Paper Canoe Theater
Thomas Burns Scully
Children’s entertainment is a tricky thing to pull off. Even today, the biggest companies in the world, with the most money to spend, and the best talent you can buy with that money, can still get it wrong. I’m looking at you ‘The Good Dinosaur’. Children’s theatre is even harder. Take a tiny human with a limited understanding of social discipline, and more concentrated energy coursing through them than a can of Red Bull, and then get them to sit still, in the dark, surrounded by colorful stimuli and loud noises? That’s a tough gig. I’ve worked in kids’ theatre a fair bit, I know the challenges, so when I knew I was told I was going to a kids’ sock puppet show, I was a little skeptical. However, I was pleasantly surprised by what I witnessed, and will now describe to you why ‘A Sock’s Fables’ by the Paper Canoe Theater Company is worth going to see.
What is ‘A Sock’s Fables’? As the title suggests, it is a retelling of two of Aesop’s fables as acted by socks. Namely: ‘The Ant and the Chrysalis’ and ‘Androcles and the Lion’. Nimble sock puppetry, and the fast work of literal stage-hands brings these stories to life, accompanied by light acoustic music (provided by Billy Bouchard). Sing-alongs, video projections, and even stand-up comedy interludes by Sarah Silver-sock fill out the distinctly un-padded forty-five minute runtime. Everything holds together nicely, the seemingly makeshift stage is surprisingly functional, the stories don’t lag, attention is held, and children are entertained. And so was I. Essentially, everything you need.
Everything about this show is simple, but effective. The puppets are simply made, but used well. The songs are uncomplicated, but performed with heart. The sets are basic, but also colorful and inventive. I can’t really find a fault with Greg Steinburner’s writing, Tami Stronach’s choreography (who you may know as the Childlike Empress from ‘Neverending Story’), or any of the performers’ work. Maybe one or two sound problems hearing the actors from behind their puppet-stage, but those issues were limited, and only really a problem when the children in the audience were being noisy. (As usual, the most frustrating thing about children’s entertainment is actual children). I had a very pleasant forty-five minute show and I’m struggling to find more to say. All is well here.
I suppose if I were to wax on about something it would be Tami Stronach’s ‘Sweet Potato Legs Dance’. Again, it’s simple, but joyful. Like a more evolved version of Charlie Chaplin’s famous ‘dinner-roll’ dance, she uses two sweet potatoes on lightly trousered stick legs to perform a semi-acrobatic dance while the Androcles puppet (Argyocles) sings the ‘Mr. Bojangles’ song. A standout moment in this compact little show, delightful in its own little way.
If you want to get your child interested in theatre, this could be a very good place to start, particularly if your child is very young. There are no difficult demands made of them, they are allowed to sit or stand on play mats just in front of the stage, or on parents’ laps, whatever’s easiest. The performance is stimulating and fun, enough jokes thrown in for adults without pandering to them, enough color to be visually stimulating, but not overstimulating, and it’s all over in forty-five minutes, about the length of a young-child’s attention span. On top of that, the children are free to interact with the performers following the show and take part in a puppet-making workshop. I didn’t stick around for this, because I get competitive when I do arts and crafts around other children. This was bashful when I was seven, now that I’m in my twenties it’s considered churlish. That said, I’m sure it was very fun, and almost certainly a good move to get kids actively involved in the practice of what they just saw.
So, all-in-all, this is a nice little contribution to children’s theatre in Brooklyn, and an ideal show for theatre-conscious parents who want to instill those values in their children. If you’re over twelve and not accompanying someone younger, this is probably not for you, but if you are accompanying a child you will almost certainly enjoy yourself. I can’t speak personally for the children who saw it, but they all seemed to be having a good time. The moral of this story is that ‘A Sock’s Fables’ is worth a look.
Triskelion Arts presents Paper Conoe’s ‘A Sock’s Fables’. The show runs every Saturday and Sunday from February 6th - March 13th at 10:30am at the Muriel Schulman Theater, 106 Calyer Street, Brooklyn. Tickets are $15 online and $20 on the door. The Puppet Workshop is included in price of admission. For tickets go to triskelionarts.org, for information on the show go to papercanoecompany.com.
This review was written by Thomas Burns Scully, a New York based writer, actor and musician. His work has been lauded by TimeOut NY, the New York Times, BAFTA US and other smaller organizations too numerous to mention. His writing has been performed on three continents. He is generally considered to be the thrifty person’s Renaissance man.
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