Entertain, and elevate – there’s plenty of pratfalls and slapstick comedy for children to enjoy in Grace Abele’s latest venture, but the playwright and director has also layered in wit and wisdom into her latest venture for Texas Shakespeare Festival.
“The Girl Who Cried Throgmonster” debuts in one week, and Abele’s hearing the tick of the clock. Everything will come together by 10 a.m. Wednesday, July 17, but the free-admission show isn’t quite ready.
“Not yet,” she admits with a laugh. “We have a week. We need to work on the technical elements. That’s what this whole week will be about.”
Taking a cue from Aesop and “The Boy Who Cried Wolf,” Abele’s second original play for TSF was born behind the scenes of her first, “The Lovely Stepsister” in Summer 2018. Two new characters took shape, and she began crafting scenes for them.
“I loved those characters so much I decided to write a play around them,” she said.
The final version, a team effort with other actors, follows that first pairing – Elfie (Emily Chang) and her bumbling fairy godmother (Lauren Ufkes) – as well as Ollie (Drew Wells), the girl’s best bud, and a handful of other characters.
And goats. Lots and lots of goats.
“There’s a group of ‘Goat Scouts.’ Their main thing is going on little marches to look at goats. The whole town is obsessed with goats, for humor,” Abele said. Granted, they’re not part of the plot and, though they’re incorporated into a lot of the design, “You never see a goat. You’ll hear them, and you’ll hear people talking about them, but you never actually see a goat.
As for the set design, “It’s kind of a dig at Disney: the setting is a generic European village. The most distinct element is an idea of Swiss Alps.”
There are seven cast members, all-aspiring thespians, some of who juggle multiple characters in the course of the play.
“The acting interns make up the company of the children’s show. It creates opportunities in the sense that everyone gets some important scenes,” Abele said. While they’re typically relegated to background characters in other productions – guards, party guests, Waiter No. 2 – in the children’s play, “Every intern in the company gets a chance to shine… to show their real character-building abilities.”
Character building is key.
Embracing another cue from Aesop, “I love to try to layer a few different themes,” Abele said. In this year’s play, “The most important one, probably, is just about the loss of trust and how lying can impact your life.”
“Throgmonster” doesn’t include the mortal peril that often features in the telling of Aesop’s fable,” but it expands on the cautionary message about telling the truth.
“When we lie, what we do is we lose people’s trust, and that’s very hard to rebuild,” Abele said. “I wanted to show the real-life consequences of lying and losing trust. People who love start shutting you out of their life.”
As layers go, Abele also works hard to squeeze in some humor (clean, of course) for the older audience members who get pulled along to the free kids’ show. At the same time, she doesn’t want to talk down to her young audience but would rather entertain and elevate them.
“I tend to just be goofy in my everyday life, so I write for what I think is funny. What I think is funny is slapstick humor, clever, witty humor,” and there’s plenty in “Throgmonster” to leave children in stitches. That said, “I like to give kids more credit than what we normally do. They’re going to get some witticisms in the lines, and the actors are doing great jobs of building wonderful characters.”
Abele also portrays Celia in “As You Like It” and The Baker’s Wife in “Into the Woods.”
Morning performances of “The Girl Who Cried Throgmonster” are also scheduled for 10 a.m. July 18-20 and 25-27. Learn more at TexasShakespeare.com.