The Arden Theatre Company's
is that rare production whose discrete elements - set, costumes, music, lighting, directing, acting - add up to one enchanting entity.
In this case, the entity is Princess Briar Rose's family kingdom and the vast woods beyond, which hold warring witch sisters, good and evil, entangled in a battle royal over the princess' fate.
Kris Stone's set is flanked by two enormous swinging pendulums and lies beneath a looming clock face, representative of time that is always slipping inexorably away: The princess' dreaded 16th birthday arrives before anyone is prepared for it; a half-century of sleep is gone in the time it takes to have a conversation with a menacing Spider King.
Brian J. Lilienthal's lighting keeps the shadow of a spinning wheel turning, the forest light dappled, and the garden sunshine warm and bright, while the plucking of Jorge Cousineau's harp-filled sound design glints brightly in the background.
Charles Way's script works as a pre-Shakespeare primer, using
A Midsummer Night's Dream
as jumping-off points for an adaptation tailored to suit contemporary language and situations. Boys will appreciate the delightful Owain's (David Raphaely) unwillingness to kiss Briar Rose (That's just plain icky, of course!). And girls will appreciate the fact that if it weren't for the intervention of dark sorcery, the princess would be perfectly capable of defending herself.
Occasionally, Way's text doesn't match the production's vivid imagery, but director Whit MacLaughlin easily makes up the difference. Shades of MacLaughlin's adult theater troupe, New Paradise Laboratories, emerge in the way the Twylyth Teg, a quartet of fairies, move almost as a unit, flitting around the stage and speaking alternately in turns and in unison, to entice the prince and his half-dragon/half-human friend Gryff to remain with them for eternity.
Richard St. Clair's costumes are saturated in richness and texture - and in the case of Doug Hara's athletic, copper-scaled, mohawked Gryff, and Sally Mercer's frighteningly evil Modron, with her woven-twig horns, they are downright iconic. St. Clair's sole miscalculation is Briar Rose's (Nako Adodoadji) Act 1 outfit, which is too bright and modern - particularly unfortunate, as it directs attention to the fact that Adodoadji is the weakest of the actors.
Luckily, the others are strong enough that her inexperience scarcely matters, and the Arden can deliver all the magic promised in this classic fairy tale.
Written by Charles Way, directed by Whit MacLaughlin, scenery by Kris Stone, costumes by Richard St. Clair, sound by Jorge Cousineau, lighting by Brian J. Lilienthal.
Cathy Simpson (Branwen/Twylyth Teg), Sally Mercer (Modron/Twylyth Teg), Doug Hara (Gryff), Paul L. Nolan (King Peredur/Spider King), Mary Elizabeth Scallen (Guineviere/Twylyth Teg), David Raphaely (the bishop/Prince Owain), Nako Adodoadji (Briar Rose/Twylyth Teg).
Arden Theatre Company, 40 N. Second St., Philadelphia through Jan. 27. Tickets: $14 to $30. Information: 215-922-1122 or
» READ MORE: www.ardentheatre.org