Sleeping Beauty Dreams is a bit of a snooze—for this adult at least

Marionetas de la Esquina is collaborating with Presentation House to produce Sleeping Beauty Dreams.

In Sleeping Beauty Dreams, the Princess isn’t allowed outside. For a long time, she doesn’t even have a name.

The best fairytales don’t explain themselves or make arguments. They speak the more compelling and flexible language of symbolism. Unfortunately, Sleeping Beauty Dreams reinvents the Sleeping Beauty story as a rational thesis.

In Amaranta Leyva’s version of the tale, Sleeping Beauty is the victim of overprotective parenting. Because the Queen’s daughter, the Princess, has been cursed by a frog, the Queen fears for her child’s life and refuses to let the Princess go outside the castle walls. And she invents a dragon outside those walls to keep the Princess compliant.

For reasons that are less clear, the Queen’s overworked servant Octavia conjures a dragon inside the walls to prevent her son Mateo from following her to her job.

Inevitably, the Princess finally falls asleep, of course. The reason is pedantic: it’s because the Princess feels that she has been silenced. A slave to her fear, the Princess’s mother has ignored her daughter’s true needs.

The resolution is also disappointingly literal and well intentioned. (Spoiler alert: I’m going to give away the ending. I figure five-year-old kids, who are the core audience for this show, aren’t going to read this review anyway.) When the Princess and Mateo, who have become friends, finally confront the dragon, the Princess simply tells it to go away, and—hey presto!—it does. “It existed when we were afraid. Then it didn’t”, she explains. Come on. Where’s the pleasure in that?

In expressing my disappointment with the script, I don’t mean to dismiss the hard work that the performers are doing or the theatrical riches that Sleeping Beauty Dreams occasionally provides.

North Vancouver’s Presentation House Theatre is collaborating with Mexico City’s Marionetas de la Esquina on Sleeping Beauty Dreams. This is the first time that actors other than those from the originating company are performing the piece, and they are working their butts off, animating multiple-character scenes while sharing control of the rod puppets in an intricate dance.

The movement qualities of two puppets stand out: the pelvic thrusting of the bullying Queen, who is primarily manipulated by Linda A. Carson, and the childish swagger of Randi Edmundson’s Princess. In my favourite moment in the show—because of its uncanny aliveness—Mateo climbs the castle wall, manipulated by Brent Hirose and Shizuka Kai.

There’s beauty in the puppets themselves. I’m thinking of Octavia’s Modigliani-like face, for instance, and her folkloric costume. There are also some trippy bits of staging: as they dream together, the Princess and Mateo fly through space then cavort on a web of red ropes that appears for no particular reason.

And I will give Sleeping Beauty Dreams this: on opening night, the kids in the audience were rapt, gripped apparently by whatever version of the story they were seeing and, I suspect, by Emiliano Leyva’s playful lighting design, which features a lot of immersive imagery—hearts floating by like balloons, for instance. The little ones didn’t seem overly concerned about the play’s structure, although, at the end of the show, when we returned to the framing device, in which parents are telling a bedtime story to their child, one of the kids in the audience did exclaim, “What?!” Future critic.

SLEEPING BEAUTY DREAMS By Amaranta Leyva. Co-directed by Lourdes Pérez Gay and Kim Selody. An international collaboration between Presentation House Theatre and Marionetas de la Esquina. At Presentation House January 26. Continues until February 4.

Tickets.

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About Colin Thomas

Colin Thomas is a Vancouver-based editor, an award-winning playwright, and an established theatre critic. Colin helps writers unlock the full potential of their novels, short stories, screenplays, and children's books.

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