Mad River Union
BLUE LAKE – Just when we think Dell’Arte has done everything, they surprise us by reaching deep into their bag of tricks and making an old story new.
Return to Oz, their 39th annual holiday play, is a perfect example. A talented cast, inventive stage design and props, whip-smart direction, and dialogue that is hilarious to adults and children alike, all combine to make this adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s classic Oz story a winner.
The cast, all third year MFA students, was uniformly wonderful. Joel Vining as The Nome King was my theater companion’s favorite but it was H. Veenadari Lakshika Jayakody as Billina the Chicken who stole the show. A talking, dancing, self-promoting chicken is just what we need for holiday cheer.
Sara Kei Wegmuller (Dorothy) was the personification of teen angst with her guitar playing and singing. She was perfectly annoying as only a teen could be at the beginning of the play but we came to like her more and more as a brave and moral compass through the now twisted land that Oz had become. Her final song was charming and dear.
Both Hannah Shaka and Everson Ndlovu were perfect as Auntie Em and Uncle Henry, thrilling the audience with their versatility when they morphed into the sinister and frightening Wheelers.
This version really moves from storm to political danger and back to storm again. The direction is so smooth as not to be noticeable until the play is over and we are discussing it with friends. That’s a good thing.
The dialogue does work well for kids. It’s always a delight to hear the laughter of children and especially to hear them talk back to the characters. And it works for adults as well. The political innuendo and jokes were hilarious as we have come to expect from Dell’Arte. It’s a gift to be able to achieve both kinds of laughter.
Another thing Dell”Arte does well is staging. At the risk of spoiling anything, the Wheelers were scary and amazing at the same time. Shaka and Ndlovu were able to make us believe that those wheels were truly part of their bodies. Ick Ick Ick but terrrific. The clever use of storm blown buildings and odd objects that turn into the letters O and Z reminds us that we are in Blue Lake, and at the Carlo Theatre. But this show will go on the road and that’s part of the fun. I’ve seen holiday shows in McKinleyville (good sight lines and riser seats but that first step, watch out!) and in Trinidad (poor sight lines but always a fun crowd) and every one is a bit different.
The tour of Return to Oz continues through Dec. 22, from Scotia to Orick and back to Blue Lake again. Don’t miss this fun show and remember to bring your canned goods to donate.
For a schedule of shows, visit dellarte.com.