News Column

'Lulu' plot and swordfight have unusual pedigree

August 8, 2013

YellowBrix

Aug. 08--"Lulu's Lemonade Stand" sounds like such a mild title, doesn't it? But Holly Erin McCarthy and Chris Compton, co-founders of Theater Under the Stairs, loosely based their original family tale on decidedly not-mild Greek mythology: "The Odyssey."

Yes, Homer's "The Odyssey." So as young Lulu tries to hurry home through the Weird Part of Town from a day of lemonade-selling, she runs into characters reminiscent of mythological creatures who guard dragons and whirlpools, or who turn children into pigs.

"It sounds ridiculous ... but it actually makes total sense," McCarthy says in an email. And if no one picks up on the literary allusions, "that's OK, too."

The reference to the Cyclops involves a one-eyed pirate, Scraggly Pete, and a one-eyed Viking, Captain Waglaff, who are arguing and have to have a swordfight to settle their dispute. And in this debut at Cotuit Center for the Arts, their fight is choreographed by a Broadway fight director.

Once the play had a swordfight, McCarthy called in the best she knew: friend Jacob Grigolia-Rosenbaum. He was fight director for "Peter and the Starcatcher," "Cyrano de Bergerac" and "Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson," which all played on Broadway in the past couple of years.

Grigolia-Rosenbaum, speaking by phone during a break in readying the "Peter" national tour, says he and McCarthy became friends in 2006 when he was a freelance director for a swashbuckling show for the National Theater for Arts & Education and she was an actor with the group.

He had taken years of fencing lessons as a teen and as he studied theater, he kept getting asked by friends to help stage swordfights. Before graduation, he had worked at Yale, Columbia and Brown universities; then "Peter" and "Andrew Jackson" director Alex Timbers, with whom he's done 15 shows or so, brought him to Broadway.

Now friendship, with McCarthy, brought him to "Lulu." Her rehearsal schedule happened to coincide with a trip by Grigolia-Rosenbaum's wife to her family home in Orleans, so the timing worked out right for his short visit to stage the pirate-Viking battle. He was also intrigued by McCarthy's ideas: "Comedy lives in this place of upset expectations," he says. "You go from the mundane to the sudden onslaught of the absurd."

And what did he find? An actress playing the Viking who had fencing training.

Almost every production he's worked on in recent years has involved fight training, and most actors -- adult or child -- don't have that expertise. He's done workshops with kids and finds that "kids, for the most part, don't have any bad habits" that he has to have them unlearn to do his choreography.

Maret Gable, 18, of Mashpee, playing the Viking, "is probably one of the best people I've worked with ever. Ever," he says and laughs. "She's definitely in the top 50 percent of actors anywhere in terms of getting the fight choreography."

While some adolescents might not be feeling comfortable inside their growing bodies, he says that, in general, "it's a pleasure working with kids. It's always fresh. It's always new. Even kids who try to spend the day convincing people they are over everything are pretty attentive when you put a sword in their hand and say they're going to fight. Boys and girls alike."

When here, Grigolia-Rosenbaum worked with the Viking, the pirate and a couple of pigs, though he heard the army of pigs would be growing. He doesn't think he's going to get to see the result on stage, though, (which McCarthy says is "SO awesome"), because he was going to Denver with the national tour for "Peter." Then it's on to San Diego to work on "The Long Goodbye," a Romeo and Juliet-themed musical with a score by late rocker Jeff Buckley.

Like "Lulu," the show at the Old Globe gives a new spin to a classic tale. But it's doubtful there will be be a one-eyed pirate or Viking involved.

Other points of interest:

--Elements Theatre Company's production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" kicks off a year-long celebration of the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare's birth. The group plans a spring college tour with Shakespearean workshops and master classes and will launch an audio/video project on Shakespeare's sonnets. The celebratory year will culminate with a full-scale, outdoor production of "King Lear" next summer. "Midsummer"runs at 7:30 p.m. Friday through Sunday and Aug. 16-18, with performances Saturday and Aug. 16-17 as dinner theater, at 45 Anchor Drive, Orleans (www.elementstheatre.org, 508-240-2400). A bonus: The Aug. 16 performance concludes at the same time as a fireworks display over Rock Harbor.

--Cape Playhouse in Dennis is in the midst of a production of the Jerry Herman musical "Hello, Dolly," which runs through Aug. 17. The show has what artistic director Evans Haile calls an "all-star cast," led by Broadway's Beth Leavel as matchmaker Dolly Levi. Leavel won a Tony Award and other awards for "The Drowsy Chaperone." Playing her target of romance, Horace Vandergelder, is James Brennan, who has directed eight shows at the playhouse and is also a Broadway actor, but who has never acted in Dennis. Playing hatmaker assistant Minnie Faye is Jennifer Cody, who has been at the playhouse a few times and on Broadway in shows that include "Urinetown" and "Shrek."

For more theater news and commentary, check out Kathi Scrizzi Driscoll's blog at www.capecodonline.com/stagedoor and follow KathiSDCC on Twitter.

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(c)2013 Cape Cod Times (Hyannis, Mass.)

Visit the Cape Cod Times (Hyannis, Mass.) at www.capecodonline.com

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