Volume 76, Number 17 | September 13 - 19, 2006

Kimberly Patterson, co-writer of the much-buzzed-about musical “Oedipus for Kids!”

NY Musical Festival gets a little complex

By Rachel Fershleiser

Let’s get one thing straight: “Oedipus for Kids!” is not appropriate for children. The new musical comedy, premiering this week at the New York Musical Theatre Festival, is the brainchild of Gil Varod (best known for broadwayabridged.com) and Kimberly Patterson (an off- and off-off-Broadway veteran). The plot centers on the fictional Fuzzy Ducks Theatre Company, which is determined to bring the classics to elementary-schoolers but stumped about how to adapt such twisted texts. (Hint: the result includes songs like “Be Kind to the Blind” and “My Lover Is My Husband is My Son.”) The musical’s six-performance run sold out almost immediately on buzz alone, but two additional shows have been added to the festival, which runs through October 1 and includes many more outlandish premises for musical theater — amorous cowboys, flying lawn chairs, the smoking ban, and Kitty Genovese included. Those not lucky enough to score a ticket to “Oedipus” can at least read our interview, below, with co-writer Kimberly Patterson.

Where do you live?

I live uptown — 117th Street — but I went to NYU. So did my co-writer and composer, but we didn’t know each other. And I’ve worked for years in Downtown theatre.

Where did this idea come from?

Originally I asked Gil to work with me on a musical for children. And that was the plan. We thought musicals for kids would be easy, and we thought about what we could adapt. We both like Ancient Greece, and he suggested Oedipus. I said “you can’t do Oedipus for kids!” And those are the problems that characters within the show face — how do you take something that’s not for kids and make it kid-friendly? That was our journey to it, and we ended up running with it and giving up on kids this time.

What are the challenges of parodying something so well known?

It can really go either way. For some people it’s very well known, but we got a lot of “Oedipus who?” Basically, we didn’t say we were adapting Sophocles. It was more “how can we tell this?” We did different research and read myth books. And it’s a play within a play, so if certain elements of the story didn’t work, we got rid of them. And we changed things to be more kid-friendly — the Oracle looks like a fairy princess.

How is NYMF different from other performance festivals?

It’s a smaller than something like the Fringe; you definitely get more individual attention. But because the festival is so young, and it’s had this meteoritic rise, there are very high expectations. It’s incredibly exciting, but it also lacks that Downtown hominess. Plus I have to go to Times Square all the time.

What Downtown theatre venues do you like?

I really enjoy HERE, especially the Dream Music puppetry works. The Ohio Theatre Ice Factory festival is great too. They gather such interesting work — you get exposed to so many different things. Some you’ll love, and some are…less your thing.

What’s next for Oedipus for Kids!?

We’d really love to see it stay alive. We’ve had a great experience with Dan Fields as a director as well as collaborator. We already have new ideas for the show. We can’t fit them in now because, well, we’re about to open. But we really know our characters and we’re seeing what else they can do.

And for you?

I’m working towards a reading of a play I wrote this November. And I would still like to write a musical that really is for kids. I’ve always been interested in children’s theatre. I studied some educational theatre at NYU, and I’m interested in things like how do you entertain without pandering. How do you incorporate educational aspects and keep children engaged?

What other shows would you like to see “Fuzzy Ducks” adapt?

We have a great deal of fun brainstorming titles for those. In “Oedpius,” they claim to have produced Titus Andronicus Bakes a Cake, Uncle Tommy’s Cabin, and Little-But-Perfectly-Adequate Women.

Available performances are Saturday 9/16 at 4:30pm and Friday 9/22 at 11pm at Sage Theatre (711 7th Ave. btwn 47th and 48th.) www.oedipusforkids.com and www.nymf.org.

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