Leaving the theater last night, an audience member who looked to be about 70 years old was helping his wife with her coat in front of the theater when he looked at me with a sly smile and went "baah," like a sheep.
Such was the infectious, participatory nature of Deuce Theatre's The Emperor Is Naked? The audience didn't know what to expect when it walked into to find cast members already milling around the room like, well, sheep. By the end of the night, nearly everyone was playing along and revelling in the unique theatrical experience.
They were likely encouraged by the fact that this story sounds very familiar: Told in the frame of the classic tale "The Emperor New Clothes," the story is set in a nation of sheep led by a bumbling ruler (the second in a dynasty) who can't seem to get the wool out of his eyes. Meanwhile, a duo of warmongering cohorts hold the true power and seek to deceive the common-folk with shiny baubles. The bumbling ruler mispronounces words, has a ridiculously short attention span, and has little interest in actually ruling. Sound familiar?
Knowing the old tale makes it easier to follow along, letting you focus more on the nuanced digs at President Bush and his war hawks. The audience no doubt came to the show with a more progressive perspective than the general population, but even the most conservative were playing along by the end.
There's a lot going on in the production, and the ensemble handles it with ease, particularly surprising for an opening night.
Creators Andrea Studley and Michael Catangay lead the show — Studley as the clever Weaver nimbly coning the decider out of his knickers and Catangay in the duel role of the manipulative ministers of offense and defense. Jeffery Craver, who narrates the tale as Herald Harold, stumbled through a few lines, but his bleeding heart in the climax hushed the audience. Eric Brown also gave a strong, animated supporting performance as court jester, Floppy.
In her program notes, Studley commended "the brave audiences for playing along." She's quite right. The audience is amusingly challenged throughout and, in the end, rewarded for their good works.