Elizabeth is a real-life princess living in a fairy tale, but then a dragon crashes her engagement party and kidnaps her beloved prince, destroys her castle and burns her pink princess clothes. Wearing a dress she fashioned from a paper bag, Elizabeth sets out to rescue her prince, only she discovers he’s really kind of a jerk — a big jerk, actually — and she’d probably be better off without him. So goes the twist of The Paper Bag Princess, Lexington Children’s Theatre’s world-premiere production of Jeremy Kisling’s play.
Vivian Snipes directs this quirky comedy, a stage adaptation of a book by Robert Munsch. It features infectiously energetic acting, thoughtful, fun design and an important message.
LCT associate artistic director Kisling’s script is light on dialogue and heavy on action, a challenge that actors Michael Whitten, Deidre Cochran and Antony Russell are more than up to.
Whitten is delightfully smarmy and self-important as Prince Ron, who cares more about an upcoming badminton tournament than Elizabeth. Russell is hilarious, lovable and a master of physical comedy as Clyde the dragon. The audience, me included, particularly enjoyed the "dragon language" he created, which is somehow comprehensible even when it's not strictly English. Russell has had success with enough tongues to make me wonder if he is the go-to guy for creating animal languages.
The cohesive timing between Russell and Whitten in comic scenes — including a flashback of their glory days on the badminton circuit — are a visual treat.
Cochran also deserves praise for her spirited portrayal of Elizabeth, who, at the play's beginning, has drunk the princess Kool-Aid and spends her free time daydreaming about being rescued and having babies. Her character evolves in a touching, humorous way; her discovery that a friendship with a goofy dragon beats a life with a conceited prince is a milestone of maturity.
Eric Abele's costumes are especially enjoyable. With period silhouettes in modern prints, Abele combines the old-fashioned fairytale roots of the show with its anachronistic twists, like how Prince Ron is obsessed with Pringles.
The Paper Bag Princess is a delightful romp with a much-needed message: Even if your prince comes, you might not want him.