Max Berry, Contributing Critic - New York City
Written by Amina Henry, this new version of “Sleeping Beauty” updates the fairy tale with a fun and silly production that is full of heart and carries an important message.
At first, I was hesitant towards this version of “Sleeping Beauty”. It seemed in the beginning, that it was going to be just another retelling of the classic story, done in a way that could be enjoyed by kids and parents, and that would be it. And it was very much enjoyed by the kids and parents that attended but this show was so much more than field-trip filler for the little ones. This show is important.
All of the basic pieces of the story are there. A princess is born, an evil fairy godmother doesn’t get invited to the party and therefore curses the princess, the princess falls into a deep sleep, and a prince must save her with a kiss. Yet, it’s what they do with these pieces that makes this adaptation so special. Two of the biggest welcomed additions are the sibling duo of Prince Rocky (Leon Schwendener) and Princess Jewel (Saran Bakari). Princess Jewel is a snarky, sword-wielding, monster-fighting girl who has grown bored of the duties asked of her as a princess. Her brother, Prince Rocky, is a gentle, hair-dressing, cookie baking boy who is constantly fighting against his own wants and desires to fulfill the expectations of his father to be a warrior.
The dynamic between these two characters, representing society’s expectations for men and women and what it looks and feels like to stand outside them, is a joy to watch. They are funny, charming, and honest at every turn. Prince Rocky and Princess Jewel are the fairy tale role models that the children of 2019 deserve and they are played to perfection by Schwendener and Bakari.
The delivery of the show is done in an over the top parody kind of feel (Which was a lot of the reason for my initial wariness) that allows for some hilarious moments. When the show really lets itself go and gets absorbed in the absurdity of what they’re saying, even the darkest of situations, like the evil fairy godmother going into surprising detail about eating people, are made hilarious when said in such a tone. While the tone was absurd, the characters took all of the silly things they said with the utmost seriousness and this made it a joy to watch while also commenting on the strange aspects and tropes of fairy tales in the process (yes, even touching on the “awakened with a kiss” thing that does feel creepy in retrospect). One actor who stuck out particularly well at this was Kyle Decker as the King. Decker had me laughing from the first moment he was on stage and thanks to his complete commitment to the silliness, I kept laughing through each of his scenes.
Henry’s adaptation of this classic fairy tale seamlessly tells a story not of a damsel in distress in need of saving from a prince, but of people struggling to live up to the unfair expectations they are given. This is all told through a silly and over the top play that harkens back to our favorite fairy tales while poking fun at their flaws. It can be enjoyed by people of all ages and teaches kids that they don’t have to be what the world tells them. If little boys want to bake cookies they can and if little girls want to be tough and go on adventures they can. There were a lot of children in the audience of this show and I know that they walked out a little more comfortable with themselves. I sure did.
“Sleeping Beauty” was written by Amina Henry and directed by Michole Biancosino.
It features: Veronica Cooper, Kyle Decker, Chelsea Melone, Leon Schwendener, Saran Bakari, Rachel Evens, and Ava Yaghmaie.
With lighting design by Hallie Zieselman, costume design by Jake Poser, and sound design by Amit Prakash.
It is presented at A.R.T/ New York Theaters (502 West 53rd St, New York, NY 10019) June 22-30th Saturdays and Sundays at 12PM and 3PM (Only one show June 30th at 12PM)