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Happy Families 

The Fantastic Mr. Fox and Mamma Mia!

Monica Blacklock and Alyssa Plante in Mamma Mia!

Photo by Kristi Patterson

Monica Blacklock and Alyssa Plante in Mamma Mia!

The Fantastic Mr. Fox

The best writers of children's books tend to come from rather curious backgrounds and Roald Dahl had that part of the CV down pat. A global traveler from childhood, through his life he crossed paths with royalty, movie stars and even 007 creator Ian Fleming. He wrote poetry, prose and screenplays all those years, but is best remembered for such children's books as James and the Giant Peach and Matlida.

All his stories had a macabre touch amid their brilliance but they're also oh-so very English, especially seen in context with fellow Brit J.K Rowling's contributions to the genre. The Fantastic Mr. Fox is a story with perhaps fewer of those famed elements but still a fine one, and Humboldt State University's department of theater, film and dance takes it on for its final show of the season.

The production is engagingly staged as a family-friendly one, while still doing the spirit of the often cranky Mr. Dahl right proud. Staged with a minimum of anthropomorphic makeup and masks, the tale is narrated by Badger (Jeremy Stolp). He spins the story of Mr. Fox (Taiquira Williams), who lives in a burrow with Mrs. Fox and their two children, and by night raids the livestock of local farmers Boggis, Bunce and Bean to feed his family. The farmers, played with blustery gusto by Garrett Vallejo, Camille Borrowdale and Victor Daniel Parra and outfitted in colorful finery, have had enough of these nightly incursions, and set out to go after the family of foxes.

They first hunt Mr. Fox with a shotgun but fail with great effect before turning to shovel, and then backhoe, to the chagrin of their human neighbors. This leads the panicked but determined family of foxes to dig and tunnel farther into the earth, where they meet up with Badger and all their various burrowing neighbors, who look to Mr. Fox for a plan to keep their families from starving.

The artistic staff for director Troy Matthew Lescher's play has done a bang-up job in masks, costuming and set design (especially in the brief appearance of a giant puppet of a cranky housekeeper that rather defies description), and in such touches of the rotating centerpiece of an onstage set and having extras spend much of the play among the audience. I couldn't say for sure if Dahl would be proud — he seems like the type to hurl a scone at you for presuming what he might think — but perhaps he'd like younger audiences having a good time while their parents rethink leaving out poison for the gophers in the yard.

Humboldt State University's production of The Fantastic Mr. Fox plays at the Gist Hall Theatre this Friday and Saturday May 9-10 at 7 p.m. with a matinee Sunday, May 12 at 2 p.m. For more information, call 826-3928 or visit www.humboldt.edu/theatre.

UPDATE: Due to possible asbestos contamination in Gist hall, the Saturday, May 11 performance will be held at North Coast Repertory Theatre (300 Fifth St., Eureka). Pre-purchased tickets will be honored and donations will be accepted at the door. 

— David Jervis

Mamma Mia!

If you're unfamiliar with the plot of the stage and screen hit playing at Ferndale Repertory Theatre, here's a rundown: At 20, Sophie (Alyssa Plante) is getting married — much to the chagrin of her free-thinking, independent, tie-dye wearing mother, Donna (Ruthi Engelke). There's just one thing missing: her father. After reading her mother's diary, Sophie realizes that she isn't the product of a sperm donor, as her mother has told her for years, but the love child of one of three men (Jorey McComas, John W. Schutt Jr. and Jonathan Moreno). Donna isn't sure which one so, without her mother's knowledge, Sophie invites the three potential baby daddies to her wedding, thinking she'll know her bio dad on sight. Music, fun and hilarity ensue, all propelled by ABBA's greatest hits.

There is never a dull moment in Ferndale Repertory Theatre's Mamma Mia! It's a fast-paced musical packed with talent. Songbird Plante's sweet soprano carried each melody effortlessly. Engelke, clearly a seasoned actress, brought depth and humor to Donna. Though not everyone onstage has the vocal chops to perfectly execute every ABBA song (who does, really?), the acting made up for it. There were some hidden gems in the supporting cast. Nolan Sanchez, who played Sophie's fiancé Sky, was truly endearing and I found myself wishing he had more center-stage time. Kyle Sanderson as Pepper and Molly Severdia as Tanya (the best voice in the house, in my opinion) were effortlessly funny in their brief but memorable frat boy/cougar romance. As the three dads — McComas as Sam, Schutt as Bill and Moreno as Headbanger Harry — all brought to the stage totally distinct, fleshed out characters that made you understand how Donna could fall a little in love with each of them more than 20 years ago.

Tons of fully choreographed ensemble numbers made Mamma Mia! visually exciting, with plenty to see and tap your toes to throughout the musical. The ensemble also lent multi-part harmonies to each song, rounding out ABBA's "Dancing Queen," "Lay All Your Love on Me" and "Voulez Vous" in a way that did the famous disco numbers justice. The minimal set design allowed each scene to move fluidly into the next and creative direction by Molly Severdia (especially in the freaky and fun dream scene "Under Attack") made the most of a relatively small production. And my mom really liked it.

Spoiler: At the end of the musical, cast members stream into the audience, inviting viewers to dance and sing along to a few of ABBA's best, so you get the chance to be a Dancing Queen, too.

Ferndale Repertory Theatre's Mamma Mia! plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. through June 2. Call 786-5483 or visit www.ferndalerep.org.

— Cassie Curatolo

Continuing

Redwood Curtain Theatre's Prodigal Son, brings depth and wit to the story of a troubled Catholic school student and his conflicted teachers Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. through May 12. Call 443-7688 or visit www.redwoodcurtain.com.

Opening

Dell'Arte tours the roots and fruits of clowning traditions at its annual Clown! show at the Carlo Theatre May 9-11 at 8 p.m. Call 668-5663 or visit www.dellarte.com.

Return to the Carlo Theatre May 16-26 for Dell'Arte's Thesis Festival to see the graduating MFA students perform their original works. Call 668-5663 or visit www.dellarte.com.

North Coast Repertory Theatre heads to the Kit Kat Club in Berlin for the seedy, sassy Cabaret May 17 through June 2. Call 442-6278 or visit www.ncrt.net.

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David Jervis

Bio:
David Jervis is a freelance writer living in Arcata. He prefers he/him pronouns.

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