There are a few things that are crucial when it comes to producing a successful children’s theatre piece. First of all, your story has to be entertaining. Secondly the action has to be fast-paced. And finally, there has to be a strong lesson underneath all the funny costumes, big movements, and thick accents. Because while we want our kids to have a good time, we also hope they’re learning something in the process.
Looking Glass Theatre’s Calamity Jane Battles The Horrible Hoopsnakes (written by E. J. C. Calvert) delivers the goods, and much more! With a healthy dose of imagination provided by the audience (who is asked to participate in fun ways) the team behind Calamity Jane packs a lot into the 50 minutes, with audience members big and small finding themselves having a rip-roaring time.
The story is simple. Well, simple-ish for is any story really ever simple? The population of the Town of Hoopersville is now down to just three – a very spunky three but still, that’s quite a small number. There’s The Mayor (Abraham Adams) who’s doing his best to keep the townfolk calm, even as he pulls double duty as the Sheriff when necessary. Then there’s the townfolk … Townie Tam (David Mangiamele) and Townie Toula (Sarah Pullman) who managed to survive this long because they know the best hiding places.
What has them scared out of their wits and diving into their hidey holes? None other than the Horrible Hoopsnakes reference in the title … snakes so horrible that they drive through town in a flash … spinning like a hoop and grabbing whatever human being is in its path, carrying off the poor hapless Hoopersville citizen to the snake den for who-knows-what terrifying trauma.
Into this crazy situation comes the young Calamity Jane (or so she likes to call herself) accompanied by her Mom (Jessica Kelly). They are driving cross country from Pennsylvania on their way to California, where not only are the streets paved with gold but apparently the houses are made of gold too! Everything in California is one solid golden dream and Jane … I mean CALAMITY Jane (Katie Proulx) intends to make her mark there as the rootin’est tooin’est cowgirl of the west. You don’t need to be in her presence for very long to be quite sure she’ll do it.
Except that a hoopsnake makes off with her Mom leaving Jane … Calamity Jane … to round up the townsfolk and lead them into the snakes’ den.
Snakes’ Den! Eeek!!! Well, actually — it’s not as scary as you might think. Inside the den we see that Calamity’s Mom is relatively unscathed and is making conversation with Snakelet (Gianna Cioffi – part girl, part puppet, all hissy goodness) who fills Mom in on some of the goings on about town. Soon the Hoopsnake Queen (Monica O’Malley; think Little Mermaid’s Ursula — with a tail) makes an appearance and, while stately and imposing (and a lovely shade purple) she actually doesn’t appear to be all that intent on HARMING the people she’s brought back to the den. In fact, all the snakes really wanted was their land back, free and clear of humans.
Eventually there’s a big showdown between the snakes and the Hoopersville citizens led by Calamity Jane. But when everyone sees that not only is Jane’s Mom fine, but Mom confirms that so is the rest of the town, they come to an understanding and the big lesson is revealed. Everyone is different, it’s just best to learn about these differences before judging someone, or something. Because if you leap before you look you’ll jump to the wrong conclusions and react badly out of fear. Taking the time to get to know someone will show you that really, they’re just like you. AAAAAAND Curtain.
Jacquelyn Honeybourne’s direction strikes just the right balance; the show is fun enough to keep children engaged but smart enough to keep adults amused as well, and each actor portrays a different perspective of the situation, so there’s something for everyone. David Mangiamele, Sarah Pullman and Abraham Adams as the Hoopersvillians do a great job of popping in and out of the story, addressing the audience, engaging the little ones and keeping the action moving along. They’re enjoyable to watch and while their acting is broad, it never goes overboard. Jessica Kelly and Monica O’Malley are great to watch in their scenes together; and Katie Proulx anchors the show adroitly – one fully believes she is capable of saving the day. Finally, Gianna Cioffi as Snakelet is both a charming actress as well as an accomplished puppeteer as she steers not only her own costume but a show-within-a-show from her side perch. Costume design by Kristina Sneshkoff is fantastic, she does particularly well in outfitting The Hoopsnake Queen.
Highly recommended for children of all ages, but fair warning — the little ones get to sit on pillows up front. So, you know … they might like it a little bit more. I mean, come on. Pillows.
~~~CALAMITY JANE BATTLES THE HORRIBLE HOOPSNAKES A new children’s show loosely based on the childhood of the legendary cowgirl in the tradition of American Tall Tales Written by E. J. C. Calvert Directed by Jacquelyn Honeybourne OCTOBER 15 – NOVEMBER 20, 2011 Looking Glass Theatre 422 West 57th Street, New York, NY 10019 (212) 307-9467 Show runs through Sunday, November 20 performances Saturdays at 12 p.m. and 2 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults, $12 for children 12 and under. Click Here to purchase
Running time is approximately 50 minutes without intermission; show is appropriate for ages 3-10.