'Sleeping Beauty' reimagined, with a few strings attached
Published 4:16 pm, Tuesday, February 4, 2014
When it came time to reimagine a classic tale, Amaranta Leyva Perez delved into the canon, finding a deep well of adventures and exploits, light and dark, before settling on "Sleeping Beauty."
"At the time, I was becoming a mother, so I had all these fears, too," the Mexican playwright said, alluding to the fairy tale's basic premise.
A princess, cursed with death by an evil witch, is put into hiding by her parents with the hope they may stop the tragedy. "I asked myself, `How would I handle it?' "
She said there is a fine line between keeping your children safe and making sure they are aware and prepared for the world's dangers. She said she wrote about how big this fear of the unknown can become and the ways one can defeat it.
The result was "Sleeping Beauty Dreams," which was co-commissioned by and premiered at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., in February 2013. It was created by Mexico's Marionetas de la Esquina, a puppet theater company that has been putting on shows since 1975. The company was founded by Leyva Perez's father Lucio Espindola. Her mother, Lourdes Perez Gay, one of the company's directors, is the director of "Sleeping Beauty Dreams," which features actors and puppets.
The production comes to the Westport Country Playhouse Sunday, Feb. 9, for two shows.
"We wanted to come up with a story by using a fairy tale that could talk about the matters and subjects that concern the children of today," she said.
Leyva Perez said the story focuses on the ways parents protect their children from the world. When it comes to the princess, she rails against the constraints and looks for a way to break free. In the process, she hopes to find her true love and a sense of who she is.
As much work as Leyva Perez puts into the text, her father and his team of puppet makers also employ a devoted approach in their studios in Mexico City.
"(My father) is the one who designs them," she said of the puppets that populate the company's repertoire. "Once he has the text or the character on paper, he starts to think."
She said he needs time to ponder a character's range of emotions. He will have to create a puppet that not only is animated, but can be easily manipulated to carry out the gestures and movements that will convey certain emotions and feelings. She said the process of working with a model and getting to the mold (and ultimately the final product) can take many months.
At the end of their shows, the company makes sure to save time to let the audience see and touch the puppets.
Although the show is geared toward children, Leyva Perez said the story and characters have been created to also appeal to adults -- a strategy employed in the company's other works, as well. She said it is her hope that the story raises questions about topics that children and their parents can discuss long after seeing the play.
In earlier works, the company has addressed a child's fear of his parents' separation and the importance of friendship.
"We look into how children deal with a situation and what happens with their emotions," she said.
If done well, she said the story serves as a kind of map that helps to guide young people through those emotions and gives parents some direction as to how to talk with their children.
Christina.email@example.com; Twitter: @xtinahennessy
Westport Country Playhouse, 25 Powers Court. Sunday, Feb. 9, 1 and 4 p.m. Pre-show activities are one hour before performances (recommended for 5 and older). $20. 203-227-4177, www.westportplayhouse.org.