The Frog Bride at the Children’s Theatre Co.

David Gonzalez in The Frog Pince.

David Gonzalez in The Frog Pince.

When approaching a play for the youngest of children should a reviewer attempt to project how youngsters will respond to the show, or review the work from an adult’s sensibilities? In the case of The Frog Bride (recommended for age 3 and up) now playing at the Children’s Theatre Company (through Feb 28) there are no divided sympathies; a good time can be had by all ages.

Conceived, written and performed by New York artist David Gonzalez and directed by Lenard Petit, The Frog Bride reimagines the Russian folk tale of three brothers commanded by their father the king to search for brides. The one who wins the finest bride also inherits the kingdom. The two oldest brothers quickly go about procuring for themselves adequate young women but the youngest son, Ivan, ends up with a frog for a bride This is because Gonzalez tells us: Ivan is a dreamer, just like you and me. The one hour story progresses through trials and charms and the frog turns into a beautiful young woman who the impatient and ill-fated Ivan manages to betray. This is the stuff that folk tales are made of. Ivan’s trials to regain Elena, the erstwhile frog occupy the second half of the show.

Gonzalez’s limber body, excellent comic timing and large vocal range make him a masterful storyteller. At times it seems he is not a solo performer but actually supported on stage by some of the characters he blithely creates such as Baba Yaga the magic- making crone, or by Elena, the frog/human.

Instead of dumbing-down the story to satisfy young theatregoers, Gonzalez has smartened The Frog Bride up through the use of projections of Russian art on an upstage scrim. These videos, designed by Matyas Keleman, are from paintings by the Russian abstract painter Wassily Kandinski. These color-filled, enlarged paintings give the performance both wonder and depth.

At one point, Gonzalez mimes the hero’s journey by climbing a projection of a Kandinsky painting as if it were a ladder. The projected painting then morphs into what appears to be a galaxy of planets and stars: this is beautiful at any age.

The storytelling is accompanied by music composed by Russian Sergei Prokoviev and Daniel Kelly, performed by Elise Parker on violin and Gregory Theisen on piano and keyboard. The music is more than just undertone. Gonzalez is a confident enough performer to allow the music to take full stage at times so the audience can absorb the classical compositions for a long few minutes. This is admirable trust in one’s audience. In the performance I attended there were few squirms and no anxious comments during the music interludes, just still attention to the music.

In the end the scrappy hero Ivan and his bride Elena return home. The ending of The Frog Bride seems a little abrupt. We never learn if Ivan is made king now that he has his most accomplished bride. Also the sloppy contemporary street clothes Gonzalez wears for the performance in place of a costume appear out of place in this finely considered piece of work. But those are quibbles. The chance to see a work that plays well to both the youngest of audiences and to the tastes of their adult escorts is good magic. Even the woolly old Baba Yaga might approve.


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