alligator pie toronto

Alligator Pie has lots of great ingredients

The poems of Dennis Lee are inventive, silly, and sometimes incredibly poignant. His words serve as great material for the stage, where the imaginative spaces and characters come to life in a new adaptation of the poet's popular Alligator Pie at Soulpepper.

It's an energetic and family-focused performance from collective creators Ins Choi, Raquel Duffy, Ken MacKenzie, Gregory Prest and Mike Ross. Of the twenty odd poems lively dramatized with music and props, some soar with creative energy, while others need a bit more time in the oven. But it's the cleverness of the presentation--an earnest approach to the material--that makes this an adaptation with a lot of potential.

The collective slowly emerge from a trap door in the stage, much to the delight of the assembled youngsters. Their playing space is truly that — a venue in which to tell stories, sing songs, and act goofy. The stories are the stuff of childhood dreams, including a look at our place in the world, relationships with friends, and playful tales of food.

Lee's poems are full of wonderful imagery and the words are given their full due from the five performers. Some of the poems are elevated once translated into song, but others seem a little out of step. The sketches that work best are those that rely on simplicity. Duffy delivers a funny monologue about her bratty brother, and Choi lets loose in an afro and gold sunglasses as a bonafide trickster. These sequences harness the confident spirit of Lee's poems.

Less successful are the sketches that go deeper into Lee's constructions. "The Cat and the Wizard" falls a bit flat, as does the "Monster and the Elf." These longer pieces don't sustain the same energy and momentum that propels the other sequences.

The set is a fairly simple green platform. It serves the purpose of a playing space, but is much less whimsical than the text demands. However, a wildly inventive collection of props and objects help to animate ideas from the text. The office tool orchestra lead by Prest, featuring music from a stapler, a three-hole punch, bubble wrap, and packing tape, is a true highlight.

In addition to some groovy musical accompaniment from Ross, the most promising aspect of the show is the complete earnestness with which the performers tackle the material. Like a Wes Anderson happy hour, they dive head on into the text with as much seriousness as if they were speaking Shakespeare. It's a clever performance technique that elevates the play — it never panders.

As a celebration of play and as an ode to childhood, Alligator Pie is a quirky, fun-filled performance with a number of clever scenes. It'll be back next season, hopefully with a more refined recipe.

Alligator Pie, with poems by Dennis Lee and creation from the ensemble, runs at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts until November 25 (but will also be back next season).

Photo by Jason Hudson

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