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Once Upon a Time at MuCCC …

Theater Review: "The Kingdom Next To Fid" at MuCCC 

Once Upon a Time at MuCCC …

The poster for "The Kingdom Next to Fid" promises, "There may be unicorns." You'll have to find that out for yourself, but if you see the new play at MuCCC, I can guarantee you will see all the other classic adventure-fantasy ingredients: good and evil fairies, chambermaids who are truly princesses, handsome princes, spells and potions, undying friendship and true love, and a happy ending. Buckles are frequently swashed, and there is some nifty fencing.

It would probably spoil the story of "The Kingdom Next to Fid" to tell you much more, but if you are a fan of such stories you'll be in your element with this play by M.L.P. Carroll and K.C. Craft. Fans of "The Princess Bride" (which includes just about everybody) will recognize the template. The play is a classic fantasy adventure with the characters running all over a kingdom or two, with liberal servings of wordplay and whimsy -- and, in this case, glances at Monty Python, "Fractured Fairy Tales," a bit of Shakespeare, and perhaps even Gilbert and Sullivan's "Iolanthe." The story is framed and narrated by a grandmother telling the story to her granddaughter, with occasionally snarky incidental comments from both -- also true to the genre.

Carroll and Craft have fashioned an imaginative script that is full of incident but not difficult to follow -- quite a feat of craftsmanship in this kind of writing. They also have a knack for inventing the fanciful characters, place names, and dialogue that this kind of story thrives on. The play could probably use trimming, though: The opening performance lasted just under two and a half hours, rather long for the children who are among the target audience (and the parents who have to try to keep them quiet).

"The Kingdom Next to Fid" is easily the most elaborate production I have seen at MuCCC. This modest performing space is busting its buttons with a cast of 30 actors kept moving almost constantly, fancy costumes, a large set with two performing levels (besides the floor), projections, and some quick-change lighting cues. 

On opening night, "The Kingdom Next to Fid" came off as an entertaining play in a complicated production that needed a few more rehearsals in order to work well. The pacing was erratic, many of the lines and movements were tentative, and I imagine all those actors had a tricky time maneuvering backstage. (No director is credited.) The noise of shuffling onstage and off and moving set pieces caused quite a few lines to be lost -- too bad, as they often sounded like clever ones. (No doubt a lot of this was cleaned up since opening night.)

Whoever directed "The Kingdom Next to Fid," it does contain a lot of excellent performers. This is one case where there really are too many to mention, but they all have funny, moving, romantic, and occasionally scary parts. The staging includes some nice ideas, including six "Living Set" performers and five "Background" performers who are inventively used and who contribute a lot to the atmosphere of the show as trees, animals, soldiers, and more. And as mentioned above, the fencing duels are impressive. (The fight choreography is credited to James Landers and Meredith Carroll.)

MuCCC deserves a salute for presenting such an ambitious summer diversion suitable for younger audiences, and also for producing an imaginative new play by two local writers. Fid and its neighboring kingdoms are definitely worth a visit, and I hope this play is indeed a work in progress; Carroll and Craft deserve the chance to refine their work further.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Meredith Powell directed "The Kingdom Next To Fid." The story was also updated to reflect six "Living Set" performers, not seven as was originally listed.

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