Pippi Longstocking at Children’s Theatre Company

April 27, 2012
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Katie Adducci and Company in Pippi Longstocking. Photo by Dan Norman.

Katie Adducci delivers a sweet and winning performance as the young rebel in CTC’s charming Pippi Longstocking (Children’s Theatre Company, through June 10).  Whipping Pippi’s famous red braids perilously close to the other characters, leaping and prancing, cackling with laughter, back-flipping across the stage every time she pronounces her name, Adducci finds the pulse of director Peter Brosius‘s steroidal 19th century approach to this material – even though she’s making her CTC debut.  She’s not the world’s best singer, it has to be said, but who cares.  Her Pippi is palpably picture perfect.

Brosius takes the energy level to 11 and leaves it there for long stretches.  No one taps anyone on the shoulder without a scream and pratfall.  The two bungling burglars, Bloom and Thunder (played brilliantly – as always – by Dean Holt and Reed Sigmund), are so over-the-top they make the Three Stooges look Chekhovian.  Autumn Ness‘s Mrs. Prysselius (one of the finest character names in theatrical history) is a bumbling and shrieking hoot and a half.  She tries so hard to be nasty you want to kiss her on the nose.  The lovely Elizabeth Griffin, wearing less make-up than I’ve ever seen, is adorable as Mrs. Settergren (whose descendents opened a chain of hardware stores in Minneapolis).  Gerald Drake, bless him, plays the teacher with subtlety and wonderfully goofy, what-the-heck spirit.

One might disagree with Brosius’s broad (and often exhausting) approach, arguing that it devalues the story’s emotional richness.  Still, without question, the fun factor here is high.  The opening night audience had a grand time.

Pippi Longstocking is based on a series of books composed in the 1940s by Astrid Lindgren.  Lindgren’s Pippi is considered by many to be a proto-feminist, ruthlessly rude to pompous adults, but deferent to grown-ups who treat her with respect.  Of the latter category there are few in the CTC play (arguably the teacher).  Pippi lives on her own (in the famous Villa Villekula, with her monkey Mr. Nilsson and her gentle horse).  She makes friends with the ultra-earnest Tommy and Annika, waxes mean and then some with the adults, and pines for her absent father (a “seafarer” in the books; a pirate in the play).  Personally I found the ending, in which Pippi chooses to stay, rather than to sail off with Dad and his argh-ing band of colorful cohorts, unconvincing and confusing.  What does Pippi get, I wondered, from Annika and Tommy that would make her reject her father?  Still, as reviewer I am obligated to report that the theater was filled with sniffles and quiet oohs and ahs as Pippi made her wrenching choice.

This is the 6th CTC iteration of Pippi Longstocking; the first was in 1982.  I really hope that, for the 7th, the theater commissions a new adaptation.  The book, by Thomas W. Olson, is repetitive and the music, by Roberta Carlson, plodding.  The play is too long by at least twenty minutes.

So: find some children and go.  Kids with some familiarity with Astrid Lindgren’s books will have an especially good time; you would be behooven to do some preparatory reading-out-loud.  There is enough creativity and intelligence in the performances to keep you entertained as well.

For more information about John Olive, please go to his (updated) website.

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