Liz Schachterle, Keith Lester, and Tara Loeper
Photo by Mark Vancleave
Leave it to Open Eye Figure Theatre to take a series of 19th-century German cautionary tales for children ("Eat your soup or you'll wither and die!") and weave them into something grand and mad.
Strumply Peter draws its inspiration from Der Struwwelpeter, a book of illustrated poems by Heinrich Hoffman first published in 1845. The originals have a whimsical edge that playwrights Michael Sommers and Josef Evans have grabbed onto for a wild, funny, and eventually joyful evening of theater.
Decked out like Freddy Kruger meets The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, Noah Sommers Haas takes on the title role. As in the original story, he is a messy boy who refuses to comb his hair or cut his nails. Instead of just being a lonely child, Peter here becomes the leader of a sort-of child's dream factory. The bad things that the youth do (playing in the rain, not obeying their mother) become the raw ingredients for special cakes and, eventually, send the kids to a "sweeter place."
This may sound like a children's book a la Clive Barker, but the creators and performers give it the right mix to make the stories more absurd than frightening. It's aided by the characters of Messy Mary (Liz Schachterle) and Crybaby (Tara Loeper), two children who have stayed on with Strumply Peter to aid in his work.
Their characters are just as wild and mad as Haas, as is Keith Lester's Lamenting Mother, who has to take on the role of authority throughout, as the others work to undermine her. Schachterle gets the best moments, as she has a play party that ends with the stage littered with straws and a table decorated with pieces of "purse gum."
Oh, and there are puppets as well, from the simple hand-puppets of bad children to a parade of Kaspars, the child who wastes away into noodle-like limbs because he doesn't eat his soup.
All of this makes for a madcap evening, fueled by the three-piece mini orchestra, led by composer Eric Jensen, with trumpeter Laura Abend and trombone player Susan Haas (Open Eye's co-leader, Sommers's wife, and mother of the lead; it's a family affair at this theater).
IF YOU GO
Through March 9
Open Eye Figure Theatre
506 E. 24th St., Minneapolis
For tickets and more information, call 612.874.6338 or visit online.