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BY TIM LALUMIA | Fairy tales are tough to do well onstage. Unfortunately, typical children’s theater does a lot of bad fairy tales. Mostly nightmare, less dream.
However, the New Acting Company’s presentation of “Jack and the Beanstalk” was anything but typical. The production was original, poignant and shrewdly funny for both children and their guardians, presented as an “up the rabbit hole” type of show within a show. This “Jack” was neither boring nor too long, and never pandered to its young audience with overt silliness, shallow, clichéd characters or worn-out, old-fashioned story lines.
The always hilariously inventive direction of Stephen Michael Rondel led this tightknit company in yet another stellar theater experience by stretching the boundaries of the stage and leading the audience on a riotous adventure. Kathy Keene’s script cleverly redesigned each character (plus adding quite a few others) and switched the setting to a children’s theater in Greenwich Village on the brink of closing its doors, having been thrown out of its longtime home by an evil real estate investor.
Sound familiar? It should, because this was the final production of N.A.C. at its home for the past decade at Children’s Aid Society on Sullivan St. The script humorously and unapologetically dramatized the terrible situation in which N.A.C. has now found itself.
Directly opposed to its original charter, Children’s Aid Society has sold its Village property for the big bucks. Thus, the community oasis known as the Philip Coltoff Center is closing its doors after more than 120 years, and with that, has lowered the curtain on this groundbreaking theater company. Plans for a new location are currently in the works.
Onstage, Jack traded valuable documents for the beans, and huge beanstalks grew up through the stage of his mom’s doomed theater. Climbing upward, Jack (humbly portrayed by Zack Zamsky, previously appearing as Peter Pan at N.A.C.) encountered “spirit” characters of not only the fictional theater’s past, but of N.A.C.’s actual past, as well. It was a nice homage to the wildly inside-out classics that have graced this stage.
Capitalizing on the actual situation and past characters, the story pitted Jack against a not-so-bright Captain Hook, brilliantly played by Synge Maher, reprising her showstopping role of 2010. Poor Hook could not accept that Peter had really grown up, not understanding that Jack only “played” Peter (as did Zamsky). A brilliant “Who’s on first?” scene that I could have watched all day.
Another perfect example of the “typical” at the New Acting Company: intelligent, multilayered comedy with heart. Let’s hope there’s more to come at the company’s new home, wherever that may be.
Also of note, Andrea Alton as the kooky dim-witted wife of the giant; Jeff Marras as the cross-dressing starlet Harp; and Synge Maher also appearing as the mad street dweller Stan the Man and the apoplectic Parent.