Anna's Perfect Party...
nytheatre.com review by Rohana Elias-Reyes
February 22, 2009
For some reason there doesn't seem to be much debate when it comes to shows for kids. Let others argue whether theatre should entertain, educate, hold a mirror up to nature, or uplift the community; for kids' shows the debate seems to be over—every play has to have a message, and whenever possible the message has to come from someone with magical powers. In Karin Diann Williams's new play Anna's Perfect Party & The Amazing Magician's Marvelous Mistake, the Amazing M may not fly children off to Neverland, jump them into chalk paintings, or present them with ruby slippers, but he does have a magic wand, a top hat complete with rabbit, and a message: perfect is boring. . . wait. . . maybe it's practice makes perfect. . ..or no. . .be careful what you wish for. No, I'm pretty sure it's perfect is boring.
The truth is, my kids couldn't have cared less if there was a message (which is good since they didn't get it), because from the moment we bounced in to the strains of lively dance music and saw scenic designer Peter Martino's balloon trees, colorful gingerbread-like house, and stacks of brightly wrapped presents, my kids were ready to party. Anna and her best friend Marley enter in Kate R. Mincer's fun silly costumes, reminiscent of children's book illustrations, and they are ready to party too—at perfect Betsy Bailey's perfect birthday party that is. However, it soon develops that Anna has a serious problem with perfectionism that is getting in the way of her ability to enjoy the fun. Luckily, the Amazing M appears just in time to help Anna learn that there are many things in life that are more fun than being perfect: like imaginary clay animals, singing off-key with your friends, and getting a surprise when you reach into a magician's hat.
Along with missing the message, my kids completely missed that the five young adults running around the stage as the party-goers were supposed to be their peers. Though the actors are enthusiastic, generous, and energetic, the generic characterizations of young children—high-pitched sing-song voices, the gangly movements of someone with serious motor developmental issues, and breathless, head-long phrasing—didn't connect. "Maybe they are supposed to be teenagers?" my five-year-old opined. By creating a picture that children are unable to recognize as themselves, making only infrequent half-hearted attempts at audience interaction, and not examining why kids (or adults for that matter) get hung up on perfectionism, Anna's Perfect Party becomes spectacle for kids, rather than a play with content.
To a certain degree, I'm okay with that because the most repeated line in the play is "being perfect is too hard, and it takes too long, and isn't much fun." That is one line that I'm hoping will not come back to haunt me when my daughter is doing her homework. Thanks, Ms. Williams.
The skinny? From an adult's perspective the show becomes literally repetitive as the Amazing M turns the clock back several times, the characterizations are trite, and the message a little mixed. My kids' review? "Perfect," of course. They decided Jamey Nicholas as Marley was the funniest character, Diann Gogerty as Anna and Sara Guarnieri as Betsy tied for their favorite because "Anna goes crazy" and Betsy has the fanciest dress. And the only thing that could possibly have made it better? "Maybe if the magician turned Anna into a bride or a princess." In the end Anna's Perfect Party & the Amazing Magician's Marvelous Mistake wasn't perfect, but it also wasn't boring for its target audience members, young children. The Looking Glass Theatre deserves kudos for consistently programming affordable shows for families that really are produced and staged with the youngest theater-goers in mind.