|Dave Switzer (Wizard), Joanna Galvan (Princess Winnifred), and ensemble. |
Photo by Ann Pastores Photography.
By Tina Arth
In place of standard Christmas fare, Theatre in the Grove is offering the decidedly non-traditional Once Upon A Mattress as its 2017 holiday show. To ensure that the mold is completely broken, Director Luis Ventura is presenting a probably unprecedented steampunk version. Ever since Carol Burnett made her Broadway debut in 1959 in the role of the Princess Winnifred, this musical reimagining of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Princess and the Pea has been delighting theater audiences – and the current production in Forest Grove fully lives up to the show’s august pedigree.
The play opens with a lightning-fast retelling of the original Princess and the Pea, narrated by a minstrel who, it turns out, was present for the real events on which the story is based (which were, he tells us, not exactly like Andersen’s fairy tale version). Yes, there is a prince in search of a wife, and yes, he is having trouble finding just the right candidate. As in Andersen’s story, a rather damp woman appears, claims to be a princess, is tested by the skeptical queen, and passes by having a sleepless night on a bed of twenty mattresses and a pea. But the Princess Winnifred is no rain-soaked wanderer – she has been fetched to the castle from the swamps of home by Sir Harry, a knight with a big problem who really needs to marry off the prince before his pregnant girlfriend starts showing. Most important (especially to the suspicious and wildly Oedipal queen) – the princess’ soggy arrival, precipitated by her eagerness to meet her prince, is not due to a sudden downpour. Unwilling to wait for the drawbridge to lift, Winnifred swam the moat! With a little help from the hen-pecked king, the minstrel, and the jester, the princess has an appropriately restless night, passes the test, and marries Prince Dauntless (who cuts Mama’s apron strings with gleeful finality in the final scene).
There are lots of fun roles in Mattress, but if the casting has been done properly then it is the actress playing Princess Winnifred who steals the show – and Joanna Galvan is a worthy successor to Ms. Burnett and a host of other top-notch comediennes. She is tiny, fearless, feisty, agile, and overwhelmingly cute – it is clear from the beginning that the evil queen is no match for this brash but lovable spitfire. Of course, she doesn’t do it alone; there is a lot of talent on the stage with her. One unforgettable cameo appearance comes from Elise Byrne, whose Princess #12 is a masterpiece of timing, inflection and attitude – sort of the quintessential Valley Girl on steroids. Nathan Wildfire’s kilted jester provides a solid narration, but much more – his height, stage presence, and flawless delivery really anchor the show, plus he just looks the part! Relative newcomer (this is only his second show) Matthew Hampshire gives Prince Dauntless just the right touch of innocence, longing, and energetic enthusiasm, and Lauren Donovan’s Jester is marvelously sinuous as she gyrates around the stage. Gillian Wildfire has the haughty grandeur and manipulative whine needed for Queen Aggravain, but sometimes misses the boat on the Queen’s rapid-fire dialogue.
The combination of James Grimes’ set design, Ward Ramsdell and Anne Kennedy’s lighting design, and Leslie Crandall-Dawes and Kya Eckstrand- White’s costumes create the steampunk look that Director Ventura sought for the show. Although it doesn’t particularly enhance the show’s central themes, this motif provides for a lavish visual feast of a set and some really diverse and intriguing costumes. Mattress is, of course, a musical – and conductor Michelle Bahr makes full use of the fine orchestra to support and augment Steph Landtiser’s always fun, often-complex vocal arrangements.
Once Upon A Mattress is playing at Theatre in the Grove, 2028 Pacific Avenue, Forest Grove through December 17th,with performances Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m.