Take your time, don't be greedy, work hard and tell the truth. These are the kinds of simple maxims parents try to teach their children and occasionally need reminding of themselves. They have also been around a long time, probably way before 600 B.C. or so, when legendary storyteller Aesop created simple but classic fables and parables that often end with a tidy "moral of the story," the most famous of which may be "The Tortoise and the Hare."
Because Aesop lived in a time when stories were more often told aloud than written down, it makes sense to bring them to life on the stage, which Lexington Children's Theatre is doing this weekend and has done twice before.
In 2001 and 2006, the theater produced Aesop's Fables Onstage, adapted by theater leaders Larry and Vivian Snipes.
In each revival, the show changes with the times and its human resources. I didn't see the 2001 debut, but I reviewed the 2006 production and admire how director Vivian Snipes adjusted the material, casting and costuming to fit the landscape of 2012.
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Cut from four actors to three, the high-energy cast leads the audience on a playful romp through the high points of eight of Aesop's most famous tales, including "The Milkmaid and Her Pail," "The Lion and the Mouse" and "The Ant and the Grasshopper."
I particularly enjoyed the revival of Eric Morris' colorfully low-tech, minimalist set design. The beauty and timelessness of Aesop's storytelling is its simplicity and this is underlined by the versatility and elegant utilitarianism of the set. A couple of cylinders, a box, a ladder, some draped fabric and a few great props, including a chorus of Greek masks, are all that is needed here.
The setting is the same as I remember the 2006 production, but the characterizations by the actors and costuming is new.
Ashley Isenhower, Jim Short and Michael Whitten breathe fresh life into classic roles with fun, offbeat interpretations. It's clear that Snipes encouraged playful expression and pure fun-having in her cast's performance choices. There are some similarities in interprations, like a grasshopper who is more of a rocker than his militaristic fellow insect the ant. But Michael Whitten's grasshopper sports thrilling Michael Jackson moves whereas Christopher Bell's 2006 grasshopper was more into the Rolling Stones.
Like 2006's production, plenty of pop culture references are woven throughout the piece, but this year's selection is updated to include light-hearted sendups to Call Me Maybe and Gangnam Style dancing.
Eric Abele's costuming is largely updated as well, and he doesn't sacrifice the quick-change necessity of his duds for creativity. I especially giggled (in a good way) at Whitten's cow costume in "The Milkmaid and her Pail." If anyone ever needs a man-purse that looks like cow udders, you know where to find one.