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.