Sealed With A Kiss by June Rachelson-Ospa and Phil Goodbody (2018)
Sleeping Ugly by Nicholas Linnehan (2017)
A review by Alyssa Haddad (Outer Stage)
We’ve all been told from the time that we were children that beauty is skin deep, but how many of us actually live our lives with this mindset? At the Underground Theatre on East 99th Street, the Identity Theater Company is making it their mission to ensure that their audience does with their new play, Sleeping Ugly. A twist on the classic tale Sleeping Beauty, Sleeping Ugly begins when Sleeping Beauty awakes to discover that suddenly warts and scars are considered beautiful. She’s ridiculed for her appearance and leaves town, where she runs into the Ugly Duckling, who is also the subject of bullying for being different from the other ducks. While Sleeping Beauty – newly dubbed Sleeping Ugly – and the Ugly duckling become fast friends, Maleficent’s obsession with becoming the fairest of them all drives her to change her appearance to look more like Sleeping Ugly, and strikes up a deal with her and the Ugly Duckling to steal her warts and make the Duckling beautiful. Much to their surprise, changing their appearance didn’t help them get accepted by their peers, teaching Maleficent, the Ugly Duckling, and Sleeping Ugly that your inner self is the true marker of beauty.
The play, written and directed by the wonderful Nicholas Linnehan, is a fun look at body image that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Linnehan’s piece is so uplifting and focused that the audience will walk out of the theatre inspired by the newfound confidence that qualities such as friendship, loyalty, and kindness are much more important than outward, subjective, appearances.
The cast of Sleeping Ugly is one of the most committed you will see on any underground theatre in New York. The ensemble, consisting of Nadia Harmsen, Chayna Douglass, and Adler Roberts, created an open and interactive environment through their performances that made it impossible to leave with a frown. Maleficent, played by Anne Barschall, played the iconic role with humor, wit, and elegance. Tucker Dally Johnston as the Magic Mirror was the hilarious sidekick all villains need, (just don’t disturb him during a nap!). Andrew Gonzales as the Ugly Duckling and Paloma George as Sleeping Ugly served up utterly enjoyable renditions of these classic characters. In an astounding 45 minute run time, Sleeping Ugly accomplishes just as much for audiences and children as any classic fairy tale, but this time, by teaching us that self-acceptance is the easiest wish we can grant.
Pinnochio by Nicholas Linnehan, songs by Ian Wehrle and June Rachelson-Ospa (2015)
The True Colors of Weedle by June Rachelson-Ospa, music by Allison Brewster-Franzetti (2014)
PETER FILICHIA, FILICHIA ON FRIDAY
…The most moving theatrical experience of all came at Cooke Center Academy on Macdougal Street in a basement room.
THE TRUE COLORS OF WEEDLE, the children’s musical with book and lyrics by June Rachelson-Ospa and music by Allison
Brewster-Franzetti, was staged for the benefit of dozens of students with Autism, Down’s Syndrome or other special needs. Weedle Watkins is a lad who was born without any color at all; he’s “Mr. Invisible” and “Mr. Nobody” to his peers.
He endures constant bullying – “Leave me alone! All of you!” – which makes him woefully wonder “How did this happen to me? Why was I born like this? Why is everyone so mean to me just because I’m different?” Some head-bobs of acknowledgment came from the young audience members. Others leaned closer when Weedle asked himself “How can I get even with such mean people?” Indeed, Weedle got revenge – only to find it sour solace indeed. The studied faces in the crowd were surprised to learn that retaliation wasn’t the answer. But THE TRUE COLORS OF WEEDLE didn’t turn out to be just a polemic. There was much fun on hand, proved by the giggles the kids gave out – especially when a character got scared by the sudden appearance of an unexpected visitor.
A makeshift caterpillar costume was greeted with enthusiasm by kids who immediately filled in the blanks that the costume didn’t bother to include. And how smart of Rachelson-Ospa to include this creature which could morph into a beautiful butterfly and deliver the message “I told you that there was something beautiful inside me.” Weedle learned that “the colors were inside you all along” and that “there’s a place for everybody where all God’s children live in peace and harmony.”
Peter Pan in the Big Apple by Nicholas Linnehan, Music by Ian Wehrle (2012)
Welcome to Tourettaville by June Rachelson Ospa and Daniel Neiden (2012)
“Identity Theater Company visited Standing Tall a few weeks ago and our students LOVED the performance. We love having the Identity Theater visit our school regularly, as the performances are amazing and the actors themselves are all heart. Thank you, Identity Theater!!”Coco Fossland Sellman, Executive Director of Standing Tall
“Dear Nicholas and June, I liked the play, it was fun, funny and awesome. I thought the facial expressions the actors made were funny. I would like you to come again. It was nice to meet you.”Student at Standing Tall
“The play was cool, fun and awesome! It made me feel happy and I liked the play. I thought it was hard for Mark. Please come back again!”Student at Standing Tall
Shows produced by Nicu’s Spoon Theater’s education wing, under Nicholas Linnehan, Education Director:
Cinderella by Nicholas Linnehan, Music by Ian Wehrle (2011)
“I want to let you know how much my students and fellow teachers have enjoyed your modern takes on traditional fairytales. We loved Rumplestiltskin, Pinnochio, and this year’s Cinderella. The dialogue is witty and very accessible. Your productions are so well geared to my student body from our 1st graders to our 5th graders, they all love them. Your integrated use of actors with disabilities has also made your productions great for my Special Education Students as well as my General Ed Students. We read the familiar fairytales beforehand and then enjoy your imaginative retellings which help inspire our students with their own writing.Looking forward to next year’s new play!”Laurie Greenwald Theater Teacher P.S. 50 Q
Rumpelstiltskin by Katie Labahn (2010)
NYTHEATRE.COM REVIEW ARCHIVE JANUARY 9, 2010
Over the past year, I’ve reviewed a number of children’s shows and seen an even larger number. With some exceptions, the shows break down into three basic groups: challenging, beautifully staged and performed productions from other countries; well-executed formulaic musicals based on best-selling children’s books; and earnestly well-intentioned low-budget “original” plays featuring telegraphed messages and casts of mixed-level experience. Produced by Nicu’s Spoon Theater, directed by Nicholas Linnehan, Rumpelstiltskin falls into the last category.
Katie Labahn’s adaptation embellishes the widely known Brothers Grimm version of the tale. “R” and his fairy friend Mori are bored after 500 years together; R decides the solution is to acquire a human baby. Meanwhile, King Thaddeus is sitting on the bankrupt throne of Marigold. His advisor Lady Malcolm insists he marry for money to save the kingdom, but instead he disguises himself as a peasant and ends up meeting a miller and his daughter, Annalease. Calvin, the miller, brags to the Lady Malcolm that his daughter can spin straw into gold and the well-known story unfolds.
Though there are opportunities for kids in the audience to dance with the cast and help solve the riddle of Rumpelstiltskin’s name, what drew my four- and six-year-olds into the show were Matt Maynard’s cartoonishly villainous portrayal of Rumpelstiltskin, several magic tricks interspersed throughout, and the somewhat odd turning-straw-into-gold dance numbers.
What I liked was Nicu’s Spoon Theatre’s, (and Linnehan’s) wonderfully straightforward version of inclusion. Actress and playwright Katie Labahn performs in a wheelchair—it’s not a plot point, nor is the character described that way; there is simply no reason why Lady Malcolm (or any other character in the play really) shouldn’t be in a wheelchair. When she entered, my daughter turned to me and asked if the actress really needed a wheelchair, I nodded, she nodded and turned back to watch the show. That moment was a far more valuable lesson than when the performers turned to the kids in the audience and told them that lying is bad and gets you into trouble. With a $10 entry fee, Rumpelstiltskin offers another kind of inclusion as well.