There Was An Old Woman Who Swallowed A Fly And Other Heroines That Reach For The Sky!
nytheatre.com review by Wendy Remington Bowie
August 13, 2011
As the mother of a daughter who (despite Momma's constant and varied attempts) will consistently choose Sleeping Beauty over Wonder Woman, I wholeheartedly appreciate the intent of Martin City Jr's There Was an Old Woman Who Swallowed a Fly and Other Heroines That Reach for the Sky. The Kansas-based company presents a series of four stories featuring women lead characters that offer a very different plotline than the ubiquitous, imperiled woman in varied states of unconsciousness, awaiting a rescue by love's first kiss.
Two princess-besotted girls meet the fabled Old Woman who is rumored (evidently incorrectly) to have swallowed a fly (a spider, a bird, a cat, et al in order to catch the fly) and then perhaps died. After convincing them that she has not in fact swallowed a fly nor died, she entices the girls with stories that challenge the standard model of princess awaiting the arrival of Prince Charming. First, we meet Tatterhood, a quirky and independent young woman who, by staying true to her own desires and beliefs (and saving the kingdom from a mess of angry trolls), wins the true affections of a prince on her own merit. Next, an African fable in which a dedicated mother rescues her children from the stomach of an elephant. A tale set in Japan features a young woman who meets a haughty wrestler, who after spending time with her supernaturally strong mother and grandmother, learns some humility and to respect the strength of diminutive beetle bugs which the women have taken to heart. The piece ends with the tale of Scheherazade and her thousand nights of creative and imaginative stories that win the heart of a hardened and cruel Sultan.
The company has absolutely no lack of enthusiasm, and creator, director and actor Jeanne Beachwood's earnest commitment to the idea of promoting female-centered stories as an alternative to the animated assemblage presented by the mouse or Mattel is undeniable. Actors Cassandra Beechwood-Hall, Kattie Post and Mark Mansen are charming and engaging and go all out. However I wouldn't say the execution is entirely successful. The piece is not particularly sophisticated and I felt that in its attempt to portray strong girls, it goes to the realm where girl power comes at the expense of portraying men as inept. Given the imperfect nature and limited scope of female centered tales I understand the writer's impulse, but morals of the tales are laid out at the end of each piece rather than letting the kids make of a story what they will. I wouldn't say that this is a piece that is as enjoyable for the parents as it is for the kids.
That being said, it does have a lot going for it. Most importantly, this is a piece for children, not for adults, and my kid loved it. The piece attempts to represent different cultures, incorporating stories from Africa, Asia and the Middle East as well as Asia. And it extols the virtues of storytelling and reading as a way to broaden and enrich one's life.
And really, what else do we got to the theater for if not to be told a good story?