Spunk without Charm: PIPPI LONGSTOCKING

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Photo by Gary Ng. Sirena Abalian as Pippi Longstocking.

Presented by Wheelock Family Theatre
Story by Astrid Lindgren
Adapted for the stage by Thomas W. Olson
Music by Roberta Carlson
Directed by Wendy Lement

Boston, Massachusetts
April 12th – May 12th, 2013
Autism Friendly Modified Performance: Saturday April 27 at 10:00am
ASL/AD: Friday May 10 at 7:30 & Sunday May 12 at 3:00
All performances offer Open Captioning
Wheelock Family Theatre Facebook Page

Review by Craig Idlebrook

(Boston) Why is everyone in such a hurry to update our iconic and innocent redheads?  A cover for a new edition of Anne of Green Gables ditches her red hair and makes her uncomfortably shapely.  The pigtailed girl in the Wendy’s logo seems to have grown up and has nothing more to do than disparage other peoples’ lunches.  And now we have Pippi Longstocking to add to the list.

Wheelock Family Theatre’s production of Pippi Longstocking has decided to take the simple story of the Swedish non-orphan and stick it in a blender.  It seems scriptwriter Thomas W. Olson and director Wendy Lement had no confidence in the 21st century entertainment value of Pippi, the simple girl who gets the last word in an adult world, and so they decided to reboot her, just for the sake of it.  It’s like watching the Spider-Man franchise all over again.

This Pippi loves to shake her booty with some very 90’s dance moves and call attention to herself whenever possible.  She doesn’t innocently blunder into awkward social situations, she seeks them out.  She knows she’s a step ahead of the rest of the world and she seems to taunt the poor inhabitants of Villa Villekulla rather than play along with them.

Actress Sirena Abalian (Pippi) is spirited and accomplished, but she’s placed in a world that is so incongruous that it disturbs.  There is no final decision on time, place or tone here.  Is it a classic little village in Sweden or is it modern-day Revere?  We’re treated to smidges of both, with a foreboding tower of alphabet letters and the spray-painted funhouse décor of Pippi’s house.  In this hodge-podge of a setting, the children seem as controlled as Stepford Wives, and when Pippi appears we can only hope she will smite everyone over thirty for their crimes against childhood.  But the goodwill created by Pippi’s entrance soon evaporates, as she is more Punky Brewster than Anne Shirley.  As the play goes on, she reminds me more and more of the attention-seeking half-pint in Home Alone…cute, but not as cute as she thinks she is.  By the time she wrecks a small party, just for kicks, she is just uncomfortable to watch, like a bachelor uncle who has steadily gotten drunker and drunker at a wedding reception.

As always, the cast assembled by Wheelock is professional and commits 100 percent.  The pratfalls keep our attention and sometimes divert us from the confusion of the production as a whole.  Also, this production continues the fine Wheelock tradition of incorporating sign language and creating a world where the color of one’s skin is as incidental as whether one is left-handed or right-handed.  But this production’s good heart was not enough to save me from befuddlement and a feeling that I now must go back and reread the original Pippi novels, if only to get the image of her doing the moonwalk out of my head.

 

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