Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Philadelphia

Sleeping Beauty
Arden Theatre Company

Also see Tim's review of Ain't Misbehavin'

Doug Hara
The Arden Theatre's surprisingly sophisticated new production of Sleeping Beauty works on so many levels - as a fantasy, as a thriller, as a comedy, - that parents may enjoy it more than their children. It's aimed at kids, but it never talks down to them - and it may even teach them a thing or two. Grownups will appreciate the crafty script, spirited acting and direction, and the work of a design team that never seems to run out of ideas.

Using a 1993 script by British playwright Charles Way, this Sleeping Beauty takes the classic fairy tale and adds some sly touches. There's a teenaged princess whose parents frustrate her at every turn (why don't they just let her do what she wants?) and a slacker prince who'd rather die than kiss a beautiful princess - he's more fascinated by the jar of maggots he's found. ("What's a maggot?" I heard a child in the audience say.) And then there's Gryff, an odd-looking creature who is half dragon, half man ("It was a spell that went a little wrong," he tells everyone).

Kris Stone's striking set design is dominated by two pendulums - one for the sun, one for the moon - and a giant clock face that hangs overhead (shades of Wicked). Here, it all serves the play's theme: time is marching on too quickly, whether it's Princess Briar Rose heading toward her sixteenth birthday (the one that will find her cursed to sleep for a century), or the prince finding that decades fly by in an instant in his quest to find the missing princess. Richard St. Clair's costumes are giddily creative, from the scales that cover Gryff to the witty vision of the evil Spider King (wearing a hat with a crown made of eyes).

Whit MacLaughlin's direction makes the show just suspenseful enough to keep kids interested, but not enough to scare them too much. Well, depending on how old they are, that is: The show is recommended for ages five and up, and it was too much to handle for a girl in my row who looked to be three or four. She was terrified by the spooky music and the shouting actors, and was carried out by her grandmother after twenty minutes. Still, most of the children around me (including that child's sister, who looked to be about seven) seemed fascinated by all the twists and turns of Briar Rose's journey.

The kids loved Nako Adodoadji's spunky, petulant take on Briar Rose, and I did too. The whole cast is terrific, but standouts include Sally Mercer as the chillingly malicious Modron; David Raphaely as a prince who is forced to grow up fast and find out he's not as "utterly useless" as everyone tells him he is (a lesson kids will appreciate); and Doug Hara, who plays Gryff as a punk rocker trapped in a fairy tale he can't wait to break out of.

But you won't want to break out of this Sleeping Beauty's world. It's a great way to show kids how enchanting the power of theater can be.

Sleeping Beauty runs through January 27, 2008 at the Arden Theatre Company, 40 North Second Street. Ticket prices range from $14 to $30 (depending on the age range) and may be purchased by calling the Arden Box Office at 215-922-1122, online at or in person at the box office.

Sleeping Beauty
By Charles Way
Directed by Whit MacLaughlin
Scenic Design ... Kris Stone
Costume Design ... Richard St. Clair
Lighting Design ... Brian Lilienthal
Sound Design/Projection Design ... Jorge Cousineau
Stage Manager ... Elana Wolff

Cathy Simpson ... Branwen/Tylwyth Teg
Sally Mercer ... Modron/Tylwyth Teg
Doug Hara ... Gryff
Paul L. Nolan ... King Peredur/Spider King
Mary Elizabeth Scallen ... Guineviere/Tylwyth Teg
David Raphaely ... The Bishop/Prince Owain
Nako Adodoadji ... Briar Rose/Tylwyth Teg

Photo: Mark Garvin

-- Tim Dunleavy

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