“Love is ridiculous.” It can inspire people, it can cause people to do rash things when in pain, and in the case of THE TALE OF DESPEREAUX it can inspire even the mice and rats to chase dreams different than that they were born to pursue. For me, it means that I fell in love with a rat wearing a red cape who plots and sings – but more on him later.
TALE OF DESPEREAUX by PigPen Theatre Co. at The Old Globe Theatre is based on the children’s book of the same name by Kate DiCamillo, and deftly explores love, loss, dreams, and forgiveness in this charmingly whimsical musical.
The Kingdom of Dor is a typical fairytale world- it as a royal family, animals that talk, and a fervent love for soup (ok maybe that one is not as typical). When a tragedy befalls the kingdom grief compels the King to declare no soup for anyone and that all rats are villainous and should be killed.
This is the land the hero, a courageous little mouse with big ears, who is named Despereaux is born into. Finding that he is not equipped for scurrying like his family, Despereaux (Bianca Norwood) breaks the rules of mice when he talks to the human Princess Pea (Taylor Iman Jones). Smitten, Despereaux pledges to be her knight, right the wrongs, save the princess, and then everyone can live happily ever after.
Unfortunately, before he can do that Despereaux finds himself thrown into the dungeon as punishment from the Mouse Council for breaking their laws (mouse justice is swift), with a red thread signifying that he has been cast out. Once in the dungeon he is greeted by the rat version of a tourism council (“Cultural Ambassadors!” one of them yells) which is as menacing as one would think a rat welcome would be in a dark dungeon.
Here is where he meets Roscuro (Eric Peterson) a dashing rat with a red cape, who like Despereaux finds himself at odds with his community. Roscuro was born loving the light and named for a joke – his full name is Chiaroscuro means “darkness and light together.”
Thanks to our chatty hero Roscuro learns of a serving girl to the Princess named Miggory Sow (Betsy Morgan) who is getting increasingly frustrated with her position in life, and may be of use to him with his plan. What kind of plan you ask? “The secret kind.” (Honestly, that’s the best kind of plan. I would follow a talking rat in a cape with an ill-advised plan anywhere, I’m just saying)
PigPen Theatre Co. has created a beautiful and spirited piece of theatre, where company members use multiple instruments and roles to facilitate the story. The sense of imagination and play is a strength for this story and gives the show an impromptu feel even though it Is nothing short of wonderfully staged. Small hand puppets are intermittently used to great effect not only as a reminder that these characters are rodent sized, but also for some comedic effect when seemingly epic battles wage between them.
The Narrator (Ryan Melia) opens the story in a library, and really is there any better place for telling a fairytale adventure than in a library?
The show excels because of the talents of its ensemble. For this show they have also welcomed some new people into their fold, including Bianca Norwood whose physicality and contagious optimism and enthusiasm make her the perfect Despereaux. She is joined by Taylor Iman Jones and Betsy Morgan, who both have gorgeous vocals; and Eric Peterson who brings some fantastic vocals as the rat blinded by his love of the light, Roscuro. (He’s not really a villain, love has just made him slightly misguided.)
The shows set by Jason Sherwood is a soaring area full of nooks and crannies that allow for unpredictable areas for characters to appear and disappear with ease. Lighting by Isabella Byrd, along with the shadow sequences and puppetry by Lydia Fine and Nick Lehane help this magical and imaginative tale.
Love, family, dreams, forgiveness, and soup- what else does a kingdom need to be successful? THE TALE OF DESPEREAUX is a fantastical, musical journey into a fairytale kingdom that proves while love may be ridiculous it is also “wonderful.”
THE TALE OF DESPERAUX by PigPen Theatre Co. is now playing at The Old Globe Theatre through August 11th. For show time and ticket information please go to www.theoldglobe.org