REVIEW

Kids and grown-ups alike will want to get some Alligator Pie at MTYP

Review coming Friday, Oct. 28

Soulpepper production brings Dennis Lee's much-loved poems to life with inventive staging

Energetic and clever staging makes Soulpepper's Alligator Pie, running at MTYP, fun for kids and adults alike. (Cylla von Tiedemann)

Every rock band in the world could take a hint from the production of Alligator Pie running now at Manitoba Theatre for Young People — open with your biggest hit, close with your biggest hit and keep the spirit of your biggest hit running through the show.

Sure, Alligator Pie features an assortment of poems by much-loved Canadian children's writer Dennis Lee, inventively staged by an ensemble from the acclaimed Toronto theatre company Soulpepper. But everyone knows the poem Alligator Pie, so there's no better way to start and end what turns into a rollicking hour of poetry, music and inspired chaos.

Five performers from Soulpepper — Peter Fernandes, Hailey Gillis, Qasim Khan, Courtney Ch'ng Lancaster and Winnipeg-born Jennifer Villaverde — race through 37 of Lee's poems, incorporating some staging as clever as Lee's wordplay along the way.

The "title track," so to speak, becomes a soulful, foot-stomping mix of spoken word and song; the subversive poem The Bratty Brother is presented as a country croon by VilllaverdeTricking turns into a cool rap by FernandesI Put a Penny In My Purse is a snappy tango, performed with percussive accompaniment via office supplies.

Throughout the show, the actors reach into "tickle trunks" onstage to pull out wigs, oversized glasses, musical instruments and common household items that often become ingeniously used percussion, and all contribute to a prevailing sense of playfulness.

Dennis Lee's much-loved poems are the basis for a rollicking hour of poetry, music and inspired chaos in Alligator Pie. (Cylla von Tiedemann)
But this is a production that's serious about its silliness, and it's all impeccably timed and performed.

Alligator Pie doesn't bog itself down with a complicated through-line — the simple concept here is a bunch of (tall) kids at play, letting their imaginations run wild as they joyfully bring Lee's words to life. It's impossible not to get caught up in the feeling, especially with the "in the round" setting — as the audience surrounds the performers, the division between us and their play space seems to disappear.

The largely pre-school and early elementary school-aged crowd I saw the show with giggled throughout and seemed thoroughly engaged. (It's probably best suited to the three- to eight-year-old crowd, though even older kids and adults will appreciate the delightful wordplay and staging.)

Household objects, like office supplies, become percussive instruments in Soulpepper's smartly performed Alligator Pie. (Cylla von Tiedemann)
It also smartly launches itself right into its action and the enthusiastic and talented cast never lets its energy wane for long. There are a couple of moments later in the show that feel like they drag a bit and it would probably benefit from trimming a poem or two. But even so, it offers creative surprises right up until its bubble wrap-popping end.

You might not die if you don't get your Alligator Pie, but you will be missing out on some terrific fun.

Soulpepper's production of Alligator Pie runs at Manitoba Theatre for Young People until Nov. 6.

About the Author

Joff Schmidt

CBC theatre reviewer

Joff Schmidt is a copy editor for CBC Manitoba. Since 2005, he's also been CBC Manitoba's theatre critic on radio and online. He majored in theatre at the U of M, and performed in many university and Fringe festival productions along the way (ranging from terrible to pretty good, according to the reviews). Find him on Twitter @JoffSchmidt.