“Ladies and gents, girls and boys, scalawags and scurvy dogs! Tis time fer Three By the Sea!” – this is how the new children’s play by Donna Latham begins as the eager audience settles down – some in chairs, others on the floor. The Looking Glass Theatre has a long history of children’s productions, going back to at least 1998. As many off-off Broadway venues, it won’t startle its patrons with extravagant décor, but will impress them with the unlimited creativity of its teams. Blue fabric stretched across the stage becomes the ocean, white and blue balloons deliver the impression of dangerous surf, whirling umbrellas help to master the waves that toss around a coyote – as a modest cast of seven actors brings the sea stories to life, creating over a dozen characters – some human, others animal, and even mystical.
The first two rows of seats are essentially pillows on which the little theatergoers can practice their show-viewing skills, and at times even partake in the performance or share their own thoughts and advices. Among other things they will learn why coyotes howl at the moon, what a foghorn is and why mermaids wear red caps. Without further ado, Buccaneer Bocephus Q. Fizziwater tosses us into the “wondrous trio of tales about watery worlds.”
Fisherman Paddy throws his fish bait into the harbor, but the sea greets him with an unusual catch. Emerging from the waves, a mermaid comes to rest on a rock. Smitten with her long green hair, Paddy snatches her red cap – which means the mermaid will forget her previous sea life. He convinces her to marry him (which proves to be not that difficult.) Then he convinces the local judge to marry them (which proves to be slightly more difficult as the judge is spooked by the bride’s long beautiful tail – but finally agrees, seduced by Paddy’s gold coins from his bride’s sea treasures.) Paddy’s new wife loses her tail and comes to live with him in his hut – but surprise, surprise – has difficulties fitting in. She doesn’t like to cook and clean, but prefers to swim in the sea all day long, until she finally gets the attention of the local gossip queens who decide to get to the bottom of the problem.
The next story introduces a cute smiley she-rabbit who get accosted by a hungry coyote while resting at the river. “Don’t eat me,” she pleads with the predator who keeps drooling at the “tasty little morsel.” “I’m all bones,” the rabbit objects, proposing a much tastier dinner to the hungry creature – a huge round piece of “river cheese which floats in the waves as soon as the moon comes up.” The only problem, she says, is that the cheese is too big for her grab – but it would be just the perfect catch for the coyote.
The last fable washes Foghorn Franny, an eighteenth century sea lass, onto a modern day beach run by the local clique of hot chicks who rule the shore (or at least think they do). Franny starts building a ship to go back to “Pops” ignoring the snotty prima donnas who make fun of her weird clothing and speech. But then something happens and Sydney, the top diva, loses her cool – and needs Franny’s help.
In a funny entertaining way, the show teaches about fitting in and being nice to the people around you – the simple life lessons that kids could use as well as their grown-up chaperones. Adults may prefer chairs to the pillows, but just like their offspring, they can’t help their reactions – the stories bring out the inner child in everyone no matter their age. “No, not the riches,” a father growls with disappointment when Paddy throws a treasure trunk back in the waves realizing things from the sea belong to the sea, his wife including. “Dude, that you should’ve kept!”
Three By the Sea runs until April 10th at Looking Glass Theatre 422 West 57th Street, downstairs New York, NY 10019 Between 9th/10th Aves Click Here for tickets