Dead duck

Unwanted: the Very Ugly Duckling

By Michael Aman and Oscar E. Moore
Directed by Don Bill
Vital Theatre Company
432 W. 42nd St., 3rd fl. (592-4508)
Non-union production (closes July 1st)
Review by Adam Cooper

In a soundly unsatisfying dramatization, writers Michael Aman and Oscar E. Moore presented their version of the fairy tale about an unattractive duckling that metamorphoses into a beautiful swan. This uncreative production for children was wholly lacking in production values. Acting across the board was presentational. Direction and good writing were absent. The set design had potential but was clumsily executed. Costume design was spartan, leaving sound design as the only dim light in this show.

Richard Guido headed the cast as the play title's namesake, Ted the unwanted newborn duckling. Megan Muckelmann was his platitude-spouting mom, Gwendolyn. Heather E. Cunningham played a busybody neighbor, Hedda, who sounded remarkably like Miss Gulch from The Wizard of Oz. Lisa Catherine Clark completed the family unit, playing Ted's insulting sister J.D. All performances were one-dimensional, lacking any depth. Events in the play did not sway their skeletal performances into any humanity. Causal relationships between characters were largely absent.

In this rendering of the tale, Ted begins as an adopted egg who hatches after the birth of his vain, competitive sister J.D. She and neighbor Hedda are contemptuous of him throughout the play. But marching with his mother to the lake, he discovers he is a good swimmer. Subsequently, Ted somehow escapes getting shot by an Elmer Fudd-like character (Norm Isaksson) by turning himself over to the hunter. Mom introduces her kids to ballet on condition they go alone. J.D. will attend only if Ted wears a bag over his head.

The adventures continue as Ted uses his ugliness to scare off a fox (Norm Isaksson). Later he saves his sister from drowning. Gwendolyn points out his self-worth and inspires him to compete in the Olympics. Ted combines swimming and dance to win the competition. Afterwards, the swan ballerina (Heather E. Cunningham) reveals she is his biological mother and thus he, too, is a swan.

The writing simply is not based in any reality and utterly omits attempting to deal with the serious issues of acceptance and rejection. The script is very talky, is riddled with pop-culture cliches, and is loosely held together by non-contiguous action. Most significantly, it fails to do what Grimm fairy tales do so successfully: tell a story that identifies with a child's experience.

Direction was gimmicky and heartless. The show moved quickly, with some interesting sights and sounds, but to poor effect. The fast pacing was a central problem: nothing was explored or used. As expected there was some perfunctory audience participation, yet the children were rarely given interesting things to do. Everything was so barely suggested that there was nothing to hold onto or care about. Having no risk or any real sense of danger is just as unsatisfying for kids as as for adults.

The set (Martin Miller) was uninspired. A constant distraction was the completely visible movement of props and set pieces, even during scenes. The costumes (Stephanie Sowa and Nestelynn Gay) were essentially just hats. The sound design (Benjamin Rosenbluth) was ear-catching yet pedestrian.
Box Score:

Writing: 0
Directing: 0
Acting: 0
Set: 0
Costumes: 0
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 1999 Adam Cooper