Reviewed by Dr. Tiffany Raymond, PhD and Theron Raymond (4th grader)
Little Lake Theatre Company invites everyone’s favorite storybook monkey from page to stage in their kid-friendly, adult-acted production of Curious George: The Golden Meatball.
From the opening scene, the energy never flags in this 55-minute production. Director Rick Bryant keeps it tight and lively for the littles as the play is recommended for ages 3 and up. Looking around during the show, both kids and adults were thoroughly engaged. There were even a few sweet moments of unintended audience participation from the youngest audience members trying to help find George.
Jennifer Phipps-Kopach is endearing as George. Costume designer Sylvia Sims-Linkish’s brown hooded, monkey onesie with protruding ears is charmingly sweet and topped by a cowlick (or rather, a monkeylick?). Phipps-Kopach clearly studied our primate relations. She manifests George with joyful, bouncy hops that forefront the monkey’s mischievousness from the outset. She steals bandanas from the actors during the opening song. She also captures George’s “voice” with discernible, yet squeaky, utterings that “match his nature” (in the words of my 10-year-old co-reviewer and kiddo, Theron).
Theron also noted Alex Keplar’s “innovative prop design.” Keplar utilizes a set of colorful wooden boxes with lids. These handy storage crates hide props and stack to create kitchen stoves, provide a pedestal for George when he’s a literal “monkey in the middle,” and “mark” the corners of the stage in this production in the round. Keplar also transforms New York City’s skyline into Rome’s Coliseum with a few panel flips. Quick, almost imperceptible, prop changes keep the tempo moving.
The play’s central tension is a story of old vs. new. Chef Pisghetti (Andy Coleman) is an Italian chef incarnate. He’s round and jolly with a native Italian accent to match that Coleman holds steady, yet also sensitive and emotional about his art.
The threat of the new comes in the form of a Meatball-a-Matic. This whizzing new meatball-making – and flinging – invention sets up across the street, luring away Pisghetti’s customers. It’s like the Doritos Locos Taco has moved in and is competing with the neighborhood taqueria.
The Meatball-a-Matic’s inventor, Phinneas T. Lightspeed (Kayleigh Peternel), is more showwoman than chef. Peternel evokes a 19th century purveyor of tonics and elixirs as she touts her wonderous, time-saving machine, singing “Who’s got time?” as she confidently strides about the stage rhyming. Even George is awestruck. The gravitational force of well-marketed novelty is undeniable.
Costume designer Sims-Linkish triumphs again. Peternel’s brown suit with tan dots are in fact meatball-sized polka dots. These dots visually reinforce the two-dimensional nature of her cuisine as well as the outer limits of Lightspeed’s skills whereas Pisghetti’s white chef’s jacket is a literal blank canvas for his range of culinary craft.
Taking offense at society’s inclination for fast over traditional, Chef Pisghetti defiantly exchanges his toque for a baseball hat, becoming Mr. Pisghetti. The attempted reconversion of Chef Pisghetti occupies the remainder of the play. George stows away to Rome for the Golden Meatball contest. This triggers a fast follow by the Man in the Yellow Hat (capably played by Christian Jones who adopts the Man’s signature arms akimbo pose) as well as Pisghetti and his wife, Netti (Katy Risotto).
Pisghetti clearly has not returned to his home country in ages as he immediately gets lost in Rome. Hilarity ensues as the hapless Pisghetti notes, “Darn, they moved the Coliseum again.” Bryant thoughtfully utilizes the stage’s four entrances and exits to create the sense of chaos one feels lost in the narrow streets of a European city. Pisghetti’s frantic search for the Coliseum mirrors his own turbulent journey to find his inner chef again.
-TR & TR
Curious George: The Golden Meatball runs through May 7, 2023 at Little Lake Theatre Company in Canonsburg, PA. Purchase tickets online here.