“The King’s daughter shall in her fifteenth year prick herself with a spindle and fall down dead.” Thus reads a frightening line in the Brothers Grimm fairy tale of “Little Briar Rose” or “Sleeping Beauty,” in which a princess is doomed to die but a curse is mitigated. Again, quoting from the Grimms, “It shall not be death, but a deep sleep of a hundred years, into which the princess shall fall.” Of course, “this sleep extended over the whole palace.”
…loyal to the romance and imagination of the Brothers Grimm tale while softening some of the more somber elements with humor.
The Puppet Co. presentation of the tale is excellent because it is loyal to the romance and imagination of the Brothers Grimm tale while softening some of the more somber elements with humor. In this vein, there are references to popular culture and everyday slang. When baby Briar Rose cries and is reprimanded for doing so. For example, the king and a frog exclaim, paraphrasing a 1960s rock-and-roll hit: “It’s her party, and she’ll cry if she wants to!”
While the frog is merely a minor character in the Grimm fairy tale version, but the frog hops front and center in the Puppet Co. retelling. Here he is the Royal Storyteller at court who has been turned into a frog because of annoyance caused by his proclivity to end stories incessantly with the cliché “happily ever after.” Cliché or not, this story of “Sleeping Beauty” (here she is also called “Briar Rose”) does end happily ever after to the delight of children viewers.
The cast is excellent, with Cate Ginsberg (listed in the program as a “newly minted puppeteer”) performing the role of Fairy 13 who casts the wicked spell intending Briar Rose’s demise. While Briar Rose is normally portrayed by Gabe Jolly, director Elizabeth Dapo took on the role with flair in the performance we saw. Danny Pushkin was in fine form as the humorous Royal Storyteller/Frog. If the storyteller is going to spend more than 100 years as a frog, he had better “make the most of it,” he says, hopping by, sunning himself, and eating flies. (“Eating flies?! Yuck!”). Each of the three cast members also takes on the parts of other characters to round out the play.
The puppet costumes, designed by earlier Puppet Co. innovators Christopher Piper, MayField Piper, Allan Stevens, and Eric Brooks, are gorgeous, as are the regal stage sets, with everything suggestive of a fairy-tale kingdom of long ago. Lighting by Elizabeth Dapo is employed effectively to create mood and atmosphere. Notably, music—such as Tchaikovsky’s “Sleeping Beauty” and Stephen Foster’s “Beautiful Dreamer”—is used, bringing the world’s great music to young ears, as The Puppet Co. productions regularly do.
Running Time: Approximately 45 minutes with no intermission.
Advisory: Recommended ages 4+.
“Sleeping Beauty” runs through April 9, 2023 at The Puppet Co. Playhouse, 300 MacArthur Blvd, Glen Echo, MD 20812 in historic Glen Echo Park. For more information and tickets, go online. Mask required performances: March 23 – March 26. ASL interpreted performance: March 19 at 11:30 am. Sensory friendly performance: April 2 at 11:30 am.