Review: Red Riding Hood by Allison Gregory. Produced by Seattle Children’s Theatre Through March 6, 2022
Playwright Allison Gregory and director Steven Dietz make a great team. Long-time marital partners, they also have a lot of experience in the realm of children’s theater. And here is the world premiere of Gregory’s new play, Red Riding Hood, they have teamed to produce a winning production.
They’ve mind-melded with two of Seattle’s best performers, Claudine Mboligikpelani Nako and Conner Neddersen for a two-person, enchanting, silly re-enactment of the famous fairytale. Neddersen plays a theater-geek named Wolfgang who sees an empty theater and decides he’s going to treat the audience to a one-person show about this tale. Suddenly, he’s interrupted by a deliveryperson who is intrigued by his idea and wants to join the fun.
But their idea of the story is a bit different, as many fairytales, because what they think is the “right” way to tell it has different components. Does Red Riding Hood bring grandma soup or bread or cake? Whose version is right?
Dietz has filled the show with visual silliness that Neddersen sets up beautifully. Without a word, he finds several knit red caps and tries to dispose of them to the delight of the kids in the audience. The kids are right with every single thing he is doing and are glued to the proceedings. Interactions with kids is also part of the script.
The main theme of the tale of this version of Riding Hood is bravery. Being scared but doing it anyway is a great message and gracefully delivered in the telling of the tale. Grandma has to be brave, too, and you don’t often see the idea of an older person being afraid but having to be brave demonstrated in children’s theater.
However, someone seemed to think that a second theme was needed. There is a grafted on, show-lengthening second moral about “listening to grandparents even when their stories are too long” that just derails the good time and is then given several small songs to sing for it, as well, that simply don’t provide the play any benefits. It’s not a long show at 75 minutes, but it could be a much tighter and funnier and punchier hour or so without the songs or the draggy, preachy second theme.
There’s a bit of a problematic moment in the belly of the wolf after being swallowed and maybe that could be adjusted as well. Couldn’t the wolf swallow only one of them and somehow the other could be the savior and still only be two people on stage? The set change choices at that point look dour and uncertain.
The rest of the production is so much fun, and the kids are so caught up, that for the most part it’s a home run! There are a lot of things to laugh at for young and old and the idea that pretty much all of us know the story makes it immediately accessible for the kids. The conceit of the delivery driver accidentally barging in to the play is also a fun way to bring about this partnership.