Director Whit MacLaughlin returns to Arden’s Children’s Theatre for his thirteenth innovative show, a unique reimagining of the classic French fairytale BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. First written by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont and published in 1756, the Arden’s version, set in London and the West Country circa 1790, is based on the 2002 retelling by contemporary British playwright Charles Way. MacLaughlin employs both live actors and shadow puppets (in collaboration with “shadow and object design consultant” Sebastienne Mundheim of White Box Theatre) to convey both the darkness and magic of the popular story, along with proto-Jungian allusions to the universal symbols and prophetic nature of dreams. It is a thoroughly captivating interpretation for children and adults alike.
As with all of the Arden’s children’s shows, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is presented by a first-rate professional ensemble that portrays the archetypes with skill and clarity. Emilie Krause and Matteo Scammell star in the title roles of the caring and fearful Belle, who breaks the curse and restores the man in the Beast through her kindness and the healing power of love. Krause is adorably wide-eyed and dutiful, and increasingly brave (“An imagned fear is so much worse than a real one”), and Scammell is a study in animalistic behavior, with his wild hair, feral gait, and enthusiastic howling.
The supporting cast is also terrific, with Lauren Hooper as Belle’s jealous and selfish sister Cassandra, who slowly comes to recognize that love is more important than money; Brian Anthony Wilson as the girls’ loving father, whose risky enterprises and resultant misfortunes have a dramatic impact on his family; Kevin Meehan as Cassandra’s hilarious yarn-spinning suitor; and a masterfully unsettling E. Ashley Izard as the Beast’s mysterious Housekeeper.
Costumes by Richard St. Clair capture the period-style and circumstances of the characters and David P. Gordon’s sparse set, with lofty strips of beige curtains in two concentric semi-circles (the outer stable, the inner rotating) receives the sometimes ominous, sometimes joyous shadows of Mundheim’s cut-outs. Redolent sound effects by Rob Kaplowitz and moody lighting by Brian Sidney Bembridge effectively contribute to bringing the story and the dream imagery to life.
Each performance is immediately followed by a question-and-answer session and a meet-and-greet with the costumed cast in the lobby, giving kids the opportunity to ask the actors about the theatrical process and their characters, and to take photos with their favorites. [40 N. 2nd Street, F. Otto Hass Stage] November 26, 2014-February 8, 2015; ardentheatre.org.