Puss in Boots, the folktale about the clever cat who wins a princess for his poor but kind-hearted master, has been around for centuries. But it’s never looked quite like this. The seven day outline-to-opening-night company Are We Delicious set its sights on the classic fairytale just one week before debuting its original, fully staged adaptation at the Bartell Theatre, which runs through January 27th.
To create this funny, fractured fairytale version of Puss in Boots, some of Madison’s most talented theater veterans combined their writing and acting skills to make the project look easy. The 90-minute result is the most fully collaborative evening of theater you can find in Madison, and a great deal of fun.
David Pausch is the delightfully silly king of “The Land” who wants his princess daughter to marry, principally so he can throw a big party, featuring chocolate fountains. But the princess, played with intelligence and feminist determination by Erica Berman, is having none of it. Meanwhile the smooth talking and resourceful cat, Trevin Gay, employs schemes a-plenty to help his destitute master succeed, once he’s outfitted with “meows-merizing” black boots. But to set up a royal marriage between the perky princess and Puss’s hapless owner with a heart of gold (the adorable Bill Bolz) the cat must overcome a fearsome, shape-shifting ogre (a formidable and extremely amusing Casem AbuLoghod) and the sneaky Fox in Gloves (the deliciously devious Amber McReynolds). In between scenes, Charlie Cheney’s Troubador sings a few verses of rhyming narration that stitches the vignettes together and helps maintain a traditional storybook feel for the show.
In addition to acting, each member of the cast was also the principle author of two of the show’s 12 scenes, which were workshopped together so they sounded cohesive, while moving the story forward. Given that the authors had varying levels of experience and confidence in the writing process, the smooth and consistent style of the final product is a real achievement.
Kudos also go to the production values of the show. In 24-hour page-to-stage productions, such as Mercury Players’ Blitz shows, the audience is expected to use its imagination to fill in the aesthetic gaps and forgive a lot of makeshift set pieces. But here the simple but complete set (design by Erin Baal) and glorious costumes and props (design by Laurie Everitt) rival or exceed the standards of other Bartell productions. And somehow the “sound circle” — literally a circle on the floor drawn in chalk where cast members stand when they are making their own sound effects — also elevates the show, which succeeds largely on the authenticity and enthusiasm of the performers.
With singing, dancing, battles of wits, and other clever combat onstage, plenty of prize-drawings at intermission, and the energy of sincerely talented people coursing through the theater, the entire experience is enchanting. Even more than other live theater events, it is also an amazing accomplishment.
An edited version of the review will appear in Isthmus.