Kids and grown-ups alike will want to get some Alligator Pie at MTYP
Soulpepper production brings Dennis Lee's much-loved poems to life with inventive staging
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 Villlaverde; Tricking turns into a cool rap by Fernandes; I 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.
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.)
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.