By Kassia Lisinski; photo by Shelley Klimes
Eddie Skaggs as Jack and Jeff Haffner as the Giant
Amana—Remember that big parachute thing from elementary school? Of course you do. We all do, each of us lucky enough to have experienced the weird womb-like joy of hanging out in a giant tent with friends… to be suddenly, seamlessly transported to another world through means we didn’t understand. Such is the experience of a well-done children’s production like the Old Creamery Theatre’s Jack and the Beanstalk, by Bob Rafferty. It is a show which appeals to both kids and the parents and grandparents willing to climb under the parachute to the same make-believe world.
Over the spare but elegantly designed stage, directly in center and recessed behind the curtains a ways, is suspended a tent-top prop irresistibly reminiscent of the old parachute. It accentuates the nostalgia of my first time here since I was a child, and memories vaguely return in the myriad of quilts and exercise ball squishy chairs, the lobby, and the clown who takes my ticket and directs me to a seat in the bare theater, which gradually fills to, if not quite a full house, very close.
The stage is lit dimly by mauve. The gentle light sets a mood and atmosphere, reflecting the capability of the forces behind the scenes: simplistic, never distracting in its effects, and enriching to the world of Jack and his Beanstalk. I found myself impressed by the room-filling boom of the giant’s baritone, accentuated without distracting by a mechanically effected echo, and particularly captivated by the utilization of a flood of growing green illumination and a scrunching, creaking, purely growing sound effect to depict the growth of the giant vine sans tangible props.
The set itself adds an extra dimension, circus-themed but not at all over the tent top (sorry). Four curiously caricaturistic representations of the cast emblazon tapestries hanging from the split chartreuse curtains which frame the set. Each presents a different circus act title: “Psychic!”, “Bearded Woman!”, “Wild Animals!”, and “Tallest Man!” and the corresponding character. My personal favorite was the one of Jack, showing a slightly confuzzled, mildly defeated boy leading a long-legged booted pig-thing, which I soon realized was meant to be a cow. The final element of the set is a three-tiered platform, with a door and hiding space beneath serving as the oven in which Jack hid from the giant. On this platform are set two shoes stage left, which are later cleverly used to shorten the legs of the actor playing the giant when he fills a smaller part temporarily, preventing the need to remove the stilts he stands upon.
At the start of the play, an usher-clown takes the stage to greet us, giving a shout out to Alexis (she’s seven today), asking us to shut off our phones, and presenting the show. The music begins, the lights flash, and the players take the stage in an exuberant swarm: the Ringmaster played by Steve Weiss, the Fortune Teller played by BJ Moeller, Nicholas Hodge’s Bearded Lady, Jeff Haffner as the World’s Tallest Man, and Eddie Skaggs as the eponymous Jack, juggling (with only a minor mishap in ball-handling) his way across the stage. The narration unfolds, and the reintroduction of Hodge as the Cow which must be taken to market is priceless: pink-haired, bearded, bow perched atop head, faux roller skate legs as hind quarters. His return as the Giant’s Wife (still wearing the beard) is another highlight of the show. Haffner’s portrayal of the Giant is near perfect. Perched atop stilts, he lumbers convincingly, all slow and enormous and dumb as any proper giant should be. Particularly amusing were the sputtering snores complete with comically flapping lips as he drifted off into a nap, various treasures clutched in arm.
The direction and timing of the show was impeccable in that it was hardly noticeable, but shone in the grace of the actors’ opening shenanigans and the timing of the entrances and exits, particularly of the giant. The entire cast seemed very well in tune with and aware of each other’s actions.
Overall, I was very pleasantly surprised by the entertainment value of the production to those outside of the target audience, and found myself transported not entirely, but ever so slightly enough back into that world under the parachute tent. For those with children, a trip to The Old Creamery Theatre’s production of Jack and the Beanstalk is an ideal excursion, a welcome escape that fully engages the imagination as only theatre can.
Jack and the Beanstalk runs through June 30, playing at 1 p.m. on Saturdays and 10 a.m. on Tuesday June 19, Thursday June 21, and Wednesday June 27. Tickets are $8.