Friday, July 24, 2009

Ice Factory '09: Babes in Toyland

Photo/Yi Zhao

The name of the play may still be Babes in Toyland, but you'd have to be a babe yourself to walk in expecting a straight version. After all, it's being performed by the Little Lord Fauntleroys, a group that's "interested in manipulating public domain texts" and "pillaging faulty nostalgias." The program's also deliberate in its use of strike-through: Victor Herbert's 1903 "Musical Extravangaza" is now a "Recession Spectacular." And just in case there's still confusion, the majority of the cast is in delightfully deadpan drag, from David Greenspan's appearance as the Widow Piper to Rodney Pallanck's caustic cheer as the narrating Mother Goose (and later, Antoinette, a doll). The production hams it up, intentionally bad, but unless you're in the mood for camp, it ends up actually being so.

For those who don't mind mixing their zombies with their toys, or prefer skipping the morals to go straight to the sugar-glazed satire, Babes in Toyland is a satisfyingly gay romp. Michael Levinton's script manages to be poke fun at its own expense: necessity is the mother of invention, but as Mother Goose proves, not necessarily a very good mother. Thankfully, in conjunction with co-director Jose Zayas, he's able to poke hard enough, so fully shameless in his low-budget "errors" (props malfunction or don't move, sock puppets say the "darn"dest things) that the show's red-faced not with embarrassment but with glee.

The show delivers exactly what it promises: "All your old friends," says Mother Goose, as a Fat Albert-ish Georgie Porgie (Becky Yamamoto), a diapered adult for Wee Willie Winkie (John Kurzynowski), plus Boy Blue, TomTom, Bo Peep, and Miss Muffet (Sadrina Renee, Julia Sirna Frest, Tonya Canada, and Eliza Bent) all stand there, frozen in tableau, their smiles slowly aging away. Barnaby (Michael Levinton) is still out to kill his wards, Alan (Sofia Jean Gomez) and Jane (Megan Hill), so that he may marry Alan's betrothed, Contrary Mary (Laura von Holt), except that now he deflates his villany by constantly humming his own theme song and running around, Snidley Whiplash-like, with his cape whirled up around his face. The very fact that we were ever amused by such antics is what's so amusing to us now, particularly in the way that Alan and Jane fill deliver their one-liner jokes with such effort, complete with broad asides to the audience. ("I can't go any further on this [snap] sprained ankle," says Alan.)

Purposeful embarassment has its charms, and Babes in Toyland is full of awkward humor, particularly in its undramatic pauses. Linda the Fairy Moth Queen (Kurzynowski) offers to fly Alan and Jane to Toyland, but they only freeze center stage, expectant, until Linda at last shooes them off stage left, bracingly smiling. In this new adult context, too, some of the songs start to sound downright creepy, particularly the way that Greenspan, as the Master Toymaker, sibilantly slithers into them. As for the big march of the wooden soldiers, it's as pathetic as you might imagine, more so in that it goes on for almost five minutes.

Because the cast manages to keep their straight faces, we're able to abandon ours, applauding the cheaply strewn fake snow (right out of a plastic bag) or the eleventh-hour resolution Svetlana the Queen of Christmas (Bent) brings. Who cares about all those dead bodies when there are all those babes, the decidedly modern and most certainly immodest variety? Leave your librettos at home: this isn't your childhood Toyland.

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