Mr. and Mrs. Pennyworth Keeps Fairy Tales Alive at Lookingglass Theatre

lookingglass_mr-andmrs-pennyworth_9184clizlauren-1 Mr. & Mrs. Pennyworth have an important task—to keep fairy tales alive. And Odin, like any good marketing executive, has outsourced the job to them. This family-friendly show is a vaguely Dickensian mystery with a smidgen of steampunk for good measure. The couple sets forth to solve the riddle of why the big bad wolf has been brutally murdered. His absence has upended and altered their storytelling world. Even as they unravel the mystery, their own sweet love story is revealed. This clever production at Lookingglass Theater is played by two puppeteer/actors (Samuel Taylor and Lindsey Noel Whiting) who seamlessly transition from playing their characters in their own bodies, to playing traditional hand puppets like one of the three little pigs or Fenris the wolf. Not only that, but they duck behind screens and turn into gods and peasants and monsters in the form of shadow puppets. The mystery-solving aspect of the story and the fairy tale allusions only enhance the love story between the spinner of yarns and his admirer, the eventual Mrs. Pennyworth. Although the set is draped in nostalgic trappings from another era, and the story dips into the stern tradition of cautionary tales that the Brothers Grimm established, the play itself is nonetheless a thoroughly modern one, since it is Mrs. Pennyworth in the end who proves to be the suitor and the hero. The real magic of the show isn’t in the plot or characters though; it is rooted in the production values. Playwright and director Doug Hara realized that early on and decided to hire a team of specialists starting with Manual Cinema to help manifest the multiple scene changes and facilitate the two actors many character changes. Indeed, the screen projections at times steal the show with their cinematic quality, seamlessly blending animations with projections, sound and shadow puppetry in a mesmerizing way. In his interview in the playbill with audience development coordinator Corinne Bass, Hara admits he has a thing for comics and Neil Gaiman, whose influence from the book American Gods was strongly felt in this story. The result, a plot about ancient characters who fight for their lives in a changing era, is a poignant and memorable one for families at this time of year, and one that would be familiar and rivetingly novel enough to please a brave grandchild (there are a few monstrous boars and wolves after all) as well as a visiting grandparent. Mr. and Mrs. Pennyworth is playing at the Lookingglass Theatre at the Water Tower until February 19. Tickets are $40-$50.  
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Kim Campbell

Kim Campbell (they/them) is a freelance editor, podcaster and creative writer who has spent a career focusing on the arts, particularly literature, theater and circus. Former editor of CircusTalk News, they have written about theater and circus for Third Coast Review since its very beginning. Kim is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and the International Network of Circus Arts Magazines. In 2019, they were on the jury of FIRCO in Madrid (Circus Festival Iberoamericano) and in 2021 they were on the voting committee for the International Circus Awards. See their tweets at @kimzyn or follow them on Instagram.