Arts & Events

EYE FROM THE AISLE: Bay Area Children’s Theater: TRUE STORY OF THE 3 LITTLE PIGS in Berkeley

By John A. McMullen II
Saturday April 28, 2012 - 09:41:00 AM
Sharon Huff Robinson as Judge Prudence
Joshua Posamentier
Sharon Huff Robinson as Judge Prudence

A few years ago, producers got hip to the idea that when it comes to children’s theatre, it needs to appeal to both parents and kids to keep them coming back for more. “Up,” “Toy Story” (particularly #3), and “The Lion King” cashed in on it. 

Bay Area Children’s Theatre is still working on that idea. 

THE TRUE STORY OF THE THREE LITTLE PIGS now on Saturdays and Sundays at Freight and Salvage in Berkeley is a musical version of a courtroom revisit of the actual facts in the case. The trial takes place in “Piggsburgh,” and the judge, prosecutor, witnesses, even our on-the-scene reporter are swine. Thus, the trial is fixed and the deck is stacked like in “Animal Farm” (which is actually the book used as the Bible the witnesses swear on). 

There are puns galore, very good choreography by Emily Morrison, witty tunes within a variety of genres and all with a good beat, and there is a courtroom reenactment of the events via a puppet show designed by Devon Labelle.  

The set by Chelsea Pegram features excellent painting trompe l’oeil (i.e., “trick of the eye”—2D that looks like 3D) of columns, and a stylized, fluted judge’s bench and witness box with seats of broken columns which are imaginative echoes of the backdrop. William Campbell’s lighting uses the painting very deftly to change moods and makes it sometimes nearly 3D. 

Regrettably, the acting is all on one level—Sesame Street Overkill—and most of the singers are faking it. 

Mr. Wolf seems pretty tame with no overtures of anything but a guy being true to his nature; an interesting parallel between our nearly universal appetite for cheeseburgers and the lupine instinct to devour pork-on-the-hoof is one of his arguments. Paul Jennings as Alexander T. Wolf plays it with sheepish innocence and nary a drool with all these tasty morsels of witnesses paraded in front of him; however, playing the given circumstances is not high on director Jessica Richard’s objectives. 

New York accents are used by both Judge J. Prudence (yes, the J. stands for “Juris”—see what I mean about the puns) played by Sharon Huff Robinson and Prosecutor Julia played by Chrissy Brooks--whose hair style is a Miss Piggy derivative. Together they run a kangaroo court. 

However, any time a pun is used, the actors have been coached to hammer on it with a “get it?” kind of inflection, which undoes any humor. 

The actors wear microphones which helps a lot. 

Though I don’t know much about children, I bet if it were played with an iota of realism it would up the ante and tension, and maintain their attention outside of the musical numbers. Regrettably, everything is played happy-happy/funny-funny.  

There is one outstanding cameo of a witness (Patricia Austin as Martha) who uses a “Fargo” accent (“don’cha’ know!”) whose gestures and intentions organically tread that fine line between comedy and pain.  

The pigs are fat and thin—though the overweight actors have much more visual credibility. 

The reporter played by Tamara Miller is engaging as our fair-minded narrator. Ms. Miller downplays her showgirl figure in a prim costume of blouse and trousers, and is by far a better dancer.  

Much of the audience—very young children and some occasionally cry—generally pays attention, though when the happy-happy blather goes on too long, their attention fades. 

But whatever formula and aesthetic they are using, BACT is bringing them in: there was an audience of about 200 for an 11 am Sunday show. It runs 60 minutes, and they play weekends with two shows a day through May 6 in Berkeley, then move on to San Ramon. 

The True Story of the Three Little Pigs 

Book and Lyrics by Robert Kauzlaric 

Music by Paul Gilvary and William Rush 

Adapted from the book by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith 

Based on the book by Jon Scieszka 

Directed by Jessica Richards, music direction Julia Norton, choreography Emily Morrisy, Stage manager Christina Larson, Set by Chelsea Pegram, Costumes by Maggie Yule and Amy Bobeda, Props and Puppets by Devon Labell, Lighting by William Campbell, Technical Director Kim Schwartz. 

WITH: Patricia Austin, Chrissy Brooks, Paul Jennings, Tamara Miller, Sharon Huff Robinson. or 510-296-4433.