Review by Brendon Bassett
As any parent knows, truly entertaining young children is nothing short of an art form. It demands energy, ingenuity and, perhaps most importantly, a sense of wonder- all things that can be found in abundance at Tears of Joy Theatre’s current production of The Adventures of Perseus. If you are not familiar with Tears of Joy, they are an internationally acclaimed puppetry theater company with a long history of staging world class productions for audiences of all ages. But, more to the point of this review… they really know kids!
Our entire experience of the Perseus production made it clear that this company understands what makes children tick…and what makes them squeal, laugh, gasp and generally stay engaged with a form of entertainment that is likely not a large part of their daily experience. It started in the lobby as our family was genuinely welcomed and invited to join in making our own Perseus and Medusa puppets. Staff and volunteers circulated amongst the tables engaging children in conversation about their puppets and weaving in stories about the characters’ adventures. Beyond just a friendly welcome, this helped the kids settle into the experience and channel some of their excitement before sitting down to watch the show.
As the play started, the cast engaged directly with the audience, giving kids an important task to perform throughout the show- to shout “All Hail the King” whenever the arrogant king Polydectes entered a scene – another demonstration of their skill in captivating young audiences.
We have two boys, 3 and 7, so one of our main concerns going into the show was whether it would hold the attention of our youngest. I do have to say that there were a few moments in the show where I felt the pace lagging, and consequently my grip tightening, as he started to squirm on my lap! However, in almost every case, this was quickly remedied through the use of a clever set change or cue for audience participation (“All Hail the King!”). Another worry we had was that some of the characters from the story, like Medusa, might be a bit scary for our little guys. In most scenes, however, the puppeteers were fully visible to the audience, which helped soften portions of the show that could have been a little unsettling for younger children.
The most impressive element of the production was most certainly the performers themselves. Puppetry is often overlooked as an art form, and this show was a reminder that actors in this medium are challenged with the task of not only conveying emotions to the audience, but doing so through otherwise inanimate objects. The two-person cast of Perseus deftly shifted between marionettes, larger table puppets, and masked performances with true genius. During a scene between Perseus and Medusa’s Three Sisters, the two actors played four distinct characters simultaneously, and with impeccable timing. The actors’ commitment to their craft was not only impressive to us, as adults, but kept the young audience connected to the story and engaged with each character. Our son even commented on how amazing it was that only two people put on such a great show!
After the performance, the actors again spoke directly to the audience and demonstrated the different types of puppets used in the show. They took a few questions from some suddenly very shy children in the audience and thanked us all for coming.
I asked my 7 year old how he liked the show and he could barely muster an answer through his broad grin! The unique nature of the performance clearly captured his imagination and when we got home he asked to go onto the Tears of Joy website to look at close-up pictures of the puppets and other performances. While the show did keep our 3 year old pretty well entertained, I am not sure it was an ideal option for younger kids. That said, we absolutely had a wonderful time together and, while we may not have cried “tears of joy”, we came pretty darn close!
Brendon and his family were given tickets to attend this performance for review on behalf of PDX Kids Calendar, but were in no way compensated for their opinions.