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The Frog Bride

nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
March 5, 2006

David Gonzalez's The Frog Bride is a magical, enchanting hour of storytelling. I can't think of a more delightful way to introduce a young child to the joy of theatre. And I'm not sure I can come up with a more charming way for an adult to pass an hour, either.

The story of The Frog Bride comes from a Russian fairy tale. In it, a king tells his three sons—who are 17, 18, and 19 years old—that they must each go into the forest, cut down a tree, build a bow and arrow from the wood of that tree, and shoot the arrow. Whoever brings the arrow back to him must become the young man's wife. The elder two find themselves betrothed to suitable young woman as a result of this unorthodox methodology, but the youngest, a bit of a dreamer, doesn't quite do the assignment as laid out and is rewarded not with a human bride but a frog.

What ensues is a test of merit that reminded me a bit of "The Princess and the Pea," followed by a test of love something along the lines of "Rapunzel" or "Sleeping Beauty." But in fact the story is not much like any that I know well, which is certainly part of this show's appeal (how often do grown-ups—or savvy kids, for that matter—get a chance to be introduced to a brand new fairy tale?), and which is also why I'm not going to give any more of it away here.

Fun as the story is, the real magic is in the telling, which is pure theatre. Gonzalez narrates the tale grandly, using funny voices, lots of movement, and an up-to-date idiom that the kids in the audience not only "got" but genuinely embraced. He's accompanied only by two musicians, Daniel Kelly on piano, keyboards, and electronics, and Christian Howes on violin. This pair is terrifically accomplished, and they play Kelly's compositions along with Sergei Prokofiev's "Five Melodies for Violin and Piano," the latter as warm yet melancholy interludes between the segments of Gonzalez's story.

Behind Gonzalez on the otherwise bare stage is a screen, on which are projected the stunning, virtuosic images and videos of Matyas Keleman. This young artist's work (he's just 25) is spectacular: blending drawings, abstract pictures, and selctions from several paintings by Kandinsky, he creates a beautiful, fluid backdrop for The Frog Bride. Gonzalez and director Leonard Petit have choreographed the interplay between human performer and visual background with remarkable acuity and flair; at one point, Gonzalez seems to be inside one of the Kandinsky pieces, its geometric shapes transformed into an astonishing landscape through which the silhouetted actor (as the youngest prince, in search of his frog bride) appears to be traveling.

It all adds up to a feast of sight, sound, and imagination for any age—truly a theatre experience to enjoy and cherish. It's s a shame that Gonzalez and his co-artists are only at the New Victory through this weekend. I'll certainly be looking forward to their next stop in NYC.