Wilde Tales with a sweet end­ing

The Hamilton Spectator - - A&E - GARY SMITH Gary Smith has writ­ten on theatre and dance for The Hamil­ton Spec­ta­tor for more than 35 years.

NI­A­GARA-ON-THE-LAKE — Os­car Wilde os­ten­si­bly wrote his small trove of fairy tales for chil­dren. You’d be for­given, how­ever, for think­ing these so­phis­ti­cated lit­tle tales were truly meant for the in­ner child of adult read­ers.

So, it’s not sur­pris­ing I sup­pose that play­wright-ac­tress Kate Hen­nig’s col­lec­tion of these sto­ries, fash­ioned into an imag­i­na­tive lit­tle play is ap­peal­ing to adults in its present in­car­na­tion as lunchtime en­ter­tain­ment at the Shaw Fes­ti­val.

The sto­ries; “The Re­mark­able Rocket,” “The Self­ish Gi­ant,” “The Happy Prince and Other Tales,” and “The Nightin­gale and the Rose,” are strung to­gether by snatches of mu­sic, a wav­ing ban­ner with ti­tles scrawled on it and the use of de­light­ful pup­pets that give the pro­duc­tion a sweet, so­phis­ti­cated sense of what you might call charm.

A small, ver­sa­tile com­pany of ac­tors plays var­i­ous roles in these some­times ten­der, some­times tough vi­sions of life, sug­gest­ing the way fate and serendip­ity can out­fox us all.

Hen­nig never presses in her de­sire to give these sto­ries nar­ra­tive life on­stage.

And she never talks down to the chil­dren in her au­di­ence, pre­fer­ring in­stead that they come to Wilde’s colourful char­ac­ters with cu­rios­ity, find­ing in them con­nec­tions to their own world of the imag­i­na­tion.

These char­ac­ters are some­times pompous and full of ego. “The Re­mark­able Rocket,” for in­stance, is a dreamer who strug­gles to fly into the dark­ness of outer space, but sput­ters in­stead into a hope­less world of fail­ure.

Then there are other dream­ers who may never find the happy end­ings they des­per­ately de­sire, but as­pire to them any­way. Some, like The Happy Prince, give up im­por­tant things to help oth­ers, only to be squished by the world.

In all of Wilde’s sto­ries there is an un­der­ly­ing thread of dark­ness ris­ing to the sur­face sug­gest­ing some­thing of the pain of his own trou­bled life.

A ge­nius play­wright who cre­ated some of the wit­ti­est come­dies in English theatre, his “The Im­por­tance of Be­ing Earnest,” “Lady Win­der­mere’s Fan,” and “An Ideal Hus­band” re­main pen­e­trat­ing looks at re­la­tion­ships.

Not sur­pris­ing then that these same re­la­tion­ships are ex­plored on an en­tirely dif­fer­ent level in the fairy sto­ries that make up “Wilde Tales.”

The work is ten­der and en­chant­ing, with Jen­nifer Good­man’s of­ten hu­mor­ous cos­tumes and John Gzowski’s orig­i­nal mu­sic adding au­ral and vis­ual magic of their own.

Direc­tor Chris­tine Brubaker moulds her cast — a num­ber of them young Shaw Fes­ti­val mem­bers — into a co­he­sive unit. Jonathan Tan, San­jay Tal­war and Emily Lukasik are de­light­ful through­out.

There is some small au­di­ence par­tic­i­pa­tion with chil­dren wav­ing flow­ers, sprin­kling petals and pro­vid­ing tiny star­like lights.

I’m not sure how steeped in theatre and lit­er­a­ture a child would have to be to grasp ev­ery­thing in this lit­tle gem of a show.

Some things might be a lot to em­brace for lit­tle folks weaned on faster-paced TV shows. And there are mo­ments of sad­ness along the jour­ney to the play’s sweet end­ing.

If you are look­ing for rau­cous en­ter­tain­ment, with young­sters en­cour­aged to holler out com­ments and sug­ges­tions, then “Wilde Tales” may not be for you. But if you’re look­ing for some­thing that asks a lot more of chil­dren and adults, Hen­nig’s take on Wilde’s fairy tales will be the very thing.

Like Wilde him­self, these lit­tle sto­ries sug­gest we take a chance on dreams, even when they some­times fail us sadly.

DAVID COOPER PHO­TOS

San­jay Tal­war as Re­mark­able Rocket, Kelly Wong as Ro­man Can­dle and Jonathan Tan as Worker in “Wilde Tales” at the Shaw Fes­ti­val.

Emily Lukasik as Nightin­gale in “Wilde Tales.”

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