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Theater review: Adults might laugh more than kids at 'Stinky Cheese Man'

Duluth Playhouse

The Theatre for Young Audiences' production of "The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales," which opened Saturday afternoon at the Underground, does indeed take familiar fairy tales and turn them into fairly stupid tales. The result is actually a children's show where the adults will probably end up laughing more than the kiddies.

Entering the Underground kids are confronted by Cow Patty (Amber Burns), who introduces herself and immediately explodes into gales of laughter. Adults get the joke, which becomes abundantly clear to any bewildered kids at the end of the show. Cow Patty also dances to the pre-show music and gets the crowd to play "Simon Says" and "Follow the Leader."

Director Jody Kujawa's talented five-person cast has to "Handel" the big opening number, which threatens to go on forever and ever, and then Jack (Cory Anderson), of Beanstalk fame, attempts to narrate the various stories, which varying degrees of failure. All the cast members play multiple characters, sometimes not only in the same story but at the same time. Nathan Payne displays distinct shades of pomposity in several roles, while Lacy Habdas does an excellent job of prompting and guiding the audience through some key interactions.

As we have come to expect with TYA productions, there are puppets, from the assorted hand puppets in "Chicken Licken" to the heavy head Payne has to handle as Frog. There is also dancing, with the gyrations Jonathan Manchester performs as the Prince and other characters being comically compelling.

These stories are clearly in the post-modern tradition of "Fractured Fairy Tales," where some of the best jokes are aimed clearly at the full-grown adults rather than the small fry.

Some stories provide a significant twist, such as "The Princess and the Bowling Ball," "The Really Ugly Duckling," and "The Other Frog Prince." "Cinderumpelstiltskin" offers a collision between two stories, while "The Tortoise and the Hair" manages to combine both approaches.

In a rather "Wilde" idea, "The Stinky Cheese Man" shares its set with "The Importance of Being Earnest," which opens next week, with a pile of cheese of almost Jacksonian-size center stage.

Another hallmark for these TYA productions has been the opportunities children (and adults) in attendance have to participate in the fun.

But because this is a published play, adapted for the stage by John Glore from the book by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith, those opportunities are rather limited and the kids do not get a chance to be on stage until the title story near the end of the show. However, it would have been better if there had been another such opportunity earlier in the show.

That might be the explanation for why the kids were more restless in this show than I remember from previous TYA endeavors. But on the other hand, the interactions with Cow Patty pre-show are far and away the most fun kids have ever had before the show even starts.

If you go

What: Theatre for Young Audiences presents "The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales"

Where: The Underground, 506 W. Michigan St.

When: Saturday at 1 p.m. and 4 p.m.; 2 p.m. Sunday through May 28

Tickets: Adults $15, Students and children $12 at