"Don't trust flatterers" and "honesty is the best policy" are just a couple of the valuable morals to be found in Aesop's Fables, currently playing at the Manhattan Children's Theatre. Adapted and directed by Bruce Merrill, this modern spin on a few old stories was just as much fun for adults as it is for the children its intended for.
Madeline does not want to do her homework assignment, which is to write a fable of her own. Coming to her rescue are Dakota, Tommy, and Bianca, her imaginary friends who scour the library in search of some fun fables they can all act out to show her just how fun they can be. With a few ordinary bits and pieces found at the library, our heroes visit such fables as The North Wind and the Sun, The City Mouse and the Country Mouse, The Boy Who Cried Wolf, The Tortoise and the Hare, The Fox and the Crow, The Two Woodsmen and the Sprite, and The Lion and the Mouse.
Lisa Gail played a convincing Madeline although at times it seemed as if her rhythm was too sophisticated for the children to grasp the modern dialogue.
Jamie Melser was delightfully versatile as Dakota. Although all the performers changed dialect for each fable, Melser excelled. Her Mrs. Katz in The City Mouse and the Country Mouse, in particular, was very funny.
Diana De La Cruz (Bianca) displayed a wonderful flair for children's-theatre performance that was demonstrated most notably in her portrayal of the sprite in The Two Woodsmen and the Sprite.
Matthew Thomas (Tommy) was also impressive as the male role model of the production. His country farmer in The Lion and the Mouse was comic genius opposite the hilarious De La Cruz.
Costume design, by Jennifer Kazmark, was suitable but uninspired in comparison to the magically colorful set design by the phenomenal Christie Phillips.
Merrill did a fine job directing the talented cast and used the capacious theatre effectively.
The Tortoise and the Hare was one of the more exciting fables presented, as it called for the help of a few pint-sized audience members to portray bridges that the Tortoise crawled under during the race.
The cast seemed to have a lot of fun as well. When it came time at the end for Madeline to write her own fable, she requested the help of the audience by asking for the name of someone who fixed things. "Maintenance man!" someone shouted. Madeline nodded in approval. "The super!" another child yelled out. "No," Melser replied dryly. "He's never home."
MCT executive director Laura Stevens has an admirable vision for the children of New York. With the continued support of the community, this theatre group seems like the perfect model for all similar companies to follow.
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Copyright 2003 Jade Esteban Estrada