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Easy Verdict in Favor of 'Mother Goose: On Trial!'

June 11, 1996|T.H. McCULLOH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

COSTA MESA — Why is "Mother Goose: On Trial!"?

One good reason--according to Dick Gjonola's play for young people, being staged by South Coast Repertory's Young Conservatory Players--is to let us know that nursery rhymes aren't always as childish as we may think. Indeed, these simple rhymes--the rap lyrics of their day--often were a form of not-so-innocent ridicule of high public figures.

This clever and amusing play explains enticing tidbits of history without letting kids know they're learning something. In school, when they have to deal with dry dates and facts concerning, say, King James I of England (the one who had the Bible rewritten) or Queen Elizabeth, it may help them to remember that he was the "old lady who lived in a shoe" and that she was "the cow [that] jumped over the moon."

(Gjonola prudently sidesteps the real story behind Jack and Jill, assuming that this age group is not ready for a medieval "Scarlet Letter.")

Director Craig Fleming uses the mock courtroom framework and its funny anachronisms to the advantage of his young cast. Although the writing doesn't provide much characterization, several actors prove inventive and insightful.

The most prominent figure is the Prosecuting Attorney, played by Jonathan Hunt Ficcadenti as a kinetic, off-the-wall stereotype. Of the court staff, Sean Engard stands out by underplaying a subtle vocal tic as he deadpans his swearing in of witnesses and earns every laugh he gets.

Alaine Caraher, from SCR's Adult Conservatory, is sweet as the understanding Mother and decisive as the firm Judge, and Brianna Hunt Ficcadenti and Marty Glyer are the children who doubt Mother Goose's veracity (the trial takes place in Glyer's dream).

The witnesses--the real subjects of the rhymes--provide a field day for cast members with comic flair. Michael Cruz is a notable Tom, the Piper's Son, a hipster with bongo drums, and a menacing Richard III (whom Mother Goose turns into Humpty Dumpty). Mathew Moore stands out as a sly and deceitful Jack Horner (he purloined an important estate deed, referred to as the plum from the pie) and as the campy, effete James I.

*

The script doesn't give the females in the cast the same advantages for creativity, but Colleen Guilford is solid as the Defense Attorney, and Amy Lang is strong as Bloody Mary, Elizabeth I's half-sister, who cut off more than the tails of three blind mice when she sat on the throne. The expurgated antics of Jack and Jill are full of good vaudeville shtick, well executed by Mathew Moore and Sarah Doyle.

Dwight Richard Odle's scenic design (a huge bed that transforms into the dreamland court) and eclectic costumes are a delight, and Garth Hemphill's music and sound design are joyful and just as eclectic.

* "Mother Goose: On Trial!," South Coast Repertory's Second Stage, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa. Friday, 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, 4 and 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, 2 and 4 p.m. Ends Sunday. Adults $10; children $8. (714) 957-4033. Running time: 50 minutes.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

("Mother Goose: On Trial!")

Alaine Caraher: Mother/Judge

Brianna Hunt Ficcadenti: Susan

Marty Glyer: Tim

Sean Engard: Bailiff

Jonathan Hunt Ficcadenti: Prosecuting Attorney

Colleen Guilford: Defense Attorney

Michael Cruz: Tom, the Piper's Son/Richard III

Mathew Moore: Little Jack Horner/Jack/James I

Sarah Doyle: Jill

Amy Lang: The Farmer's Wife (Queen Mary)

A South Coast Repertory Young Conservatory Players production of a play by Dick Gjonola, directed by Craig Fleming. Scenic/costume design: Dwight Richard Odle. Lighting design: Donna Ruzika. Music/sound design: Garth Hemphill. Stage manager: Karen Runta.

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