Mark Twain’s short story A Fable gets a dazzling rebirth in A Wonderfully Flat Thing, when Manju Shandler (the artistic director who had previously designed masks and puppetry for The Lion King on Broadway) brings her creative talent to this small but charming production which appeals to everyone from age three and up. The script has been adapted for the stage by Valerie Work, Manju Shandler, & Basmat Hazan.
In this reinterpretation, Mark Twain (Jake Goodman) is working on a new story that has to do with a big mirror in his room. When he falls asleep, his Cat (Emily Hartford) discovers a beautiful cat in “the wonderfully flat thing” and runs into the forest to tell her friends about it. Skeptical at first, the menagerie decides to investigate and convinces Donkey (Jake Goodman) to go into the house. Donkey, of course, sees a donkey in “the wonderfully flat thing,” contradicting Cat’s story. The controversy is brought up to King Elephant (Shawn Shafner), who sends out Snake (Sarah Painter) followed by Ostrich (Sarae Garcia) to settle the matter. Snake reports witnessing a snake. Ostrich comes back in tears, telling a sad story of a big clumsy bird who wanted to soar with the seagulls, but couldn’t fly. Finally, King Elephant embarks on the adventure himself, discovering his own reflection in “the wonderfully flat thing.”
The tale is deceptively simple, but there’s a lot to read between the lines, as well as in the characters’ costumes – so brilliantly designed by Shandler - and even in their self-reflections and mental images that are brought to us via multi-media effects (designed by David Tirosh) and additional background puppetry.
Donkey, an old gent with strong opinions, is elegantly clad in an old-fashioned cardigan with a red-white-and-blue trim and a button that proclaims “No, you can’t!” Snake’s self-reflection brings out a familiar scene of a snake snatching apples off a tree; we definitely had been exposed to that one before. And, trumping and trampling, Elephant is a picture of a monarch, who had long ago outlived his use.
Flamboyant, picturesque costumes, alluring puppets and colorful stage décor instantly transform the LABA Theater into an enchanted forest where the fascinating animals live. What’s more, the children can sit on the front row red carpet if they want to fluff Ostrich’s lacey skirt, pet Snake, or “Hee-haw” back at Donkey. Unlike the more formal shows that require enough discipline to remain seated in thy chair and stay quiet, AWonderfully Flat Thing, pays as much respect to the stiff societal rules of proper etiquette as did its creator. The little audience is free to shout, giggle, crawl, jump and interact with the characters. “The house is there,” they shout to the seemingly lost Donkey. “Wake up!” – to the sleeping Mark Twain. “Ooh,” they sigh at the sight of a sobbing Ostrich, “Don’t cry!”
After the show the puppets come out to mingle. Ostrich lets the little fans fuzzy up her feathery tutu, the cat draws a feline-loving crowd and if you never high-fived an elephant, well now’s your chance to slap that big round paw. And, if you want to bring home a souvenir, you can buy a few tiny, colorful, rubbery finger puppets from the concession stand.
“For kids, it’s an entertaining riddle, a romp on stage with surprising puppets,” says Manju Shandle. “For adults it’s a piece about self-reflection.” But, perhaps the best moral of the story is expressed by Mark Twain’s own words: “You can find in a text whatever you bring, if you stand between it and the mirror of your imagination.”
~~~A WONDERFULLY FLAT THING Based on A Fable by Mark Twain Created by Manju Shandler & Basmat Hazan Directed by David Winitsky . The 14th Street Y LABA Theatre 344 East 14th Street (Between 1st & 2nd Avenues) New York, NY 10003 . Remaining Shows: Sunday, 1/9 2:30PM & 5:00PM Saturday, 1/15 11:30AM, 2:30PM & 5:00PM Sunday, 1/16 11:30AM & 2:30PM . For tickets click here or call 646-395-4322. Tickets may also be purchased in-person at the 14th Street Y front desk.