note: entire contents copyright 2005 by Beverly Creasey
The Wheelock Family Theatreówhich is the only affordable theater in Boston where you can take the kids and not break the bank--- is currently giving Jack and his Beanstock a swift kick in the pants. Itís the slapstick kind, accomplished with a Commedia dellí Arte slap stick (two sticks bound at one end to make a loud sound when slapped together). I havenít had such fun since the American Repertory Theatreís foray into the genre, many, many years ago.
Sue Kosoff and Anthony Hancock call their version THE BEANSTOCK, THE GIANT, AND JACK. The only problem with the inversion is that Kalil Flemming gets third billing, after the beanstock and the giant baby----and if anyone ever deserved top billing itís Flemming. He can sing, he can dance (I think I saw him airborne) and the fifth graderís comic timing would astound Richard Pryor. When he bounds onstage, he electrifies James Byrneís set. I donít think they even need John Malinowskiís lighting!
What fun it is to watch Wheelock regulars assume different comic roles within the play. John Davin makes a hilarious howling baby under master comedienne Gamalia Pharmsídubious care. Then Davin transforms himself into a quack who sounds like the lovechild of Charlie Ruggles and Phyllis Diller. Bill Mootos, too, gets to play against type, as the tediously slow Uncle Bill. You donít remember an Uncle Bill in the story? Bet you donít recall Lancelot either. Liberties have been taken. Thereís even an elopement, with an angry father (Matthew Lazure) in hot pursuit.
Butter could melt in Dan Boltonís mouth, if his tongue werenít entirely in his cheek, to mix a few metaphors. Heís the best in town at impersonating a naif with a little edge. Grace Napier is teamed with Bolton in the King Arthur part of the story. Neil Gustafson is as at home in Shakespeare as he is with slapstick, here playing the fraidy cat squire. I attended a performance, alas, without Yvonne Murphy in the role of the witchy sister and saw director Bryne instead in the skirt role. Pretty funny stuff.
Jane Staab (who also wrote the music) is the giant babyís mom, under a huge head (as is J.H. Williston as baby) designed by Janet Meyers. Marion Piroís costumes are ingenious and amusing with one exception. Both the bride and groom characters and the Arthurian garb are so similar, itís difficult to tell them apart.
The children at my performance just lapped it all up. Heck, you might even get them to eat their beans when you get home.