In recent years, the Children’s Theatre Company has faced criticism for softening its edges and producing safe name-brand shows like Babe, Annie, and The Wizard of Oz. Whether or not you think that’s true—or, if you do, whether or not you think it’s a bad thing—the storefront stage run just a few blocks away by Open Eye Figure Theatre is emerging as the anti-CTC, staging children’s programming that’s a madhouse of creativity and energy, with nothing safe or predictable about it. There’s the randy annual Holiday Pageant, there’s the gleefully odd Milly and Tilly, there’s the popular Driveway Tour, and now there’s The Learning Fairy, a short show that’s presented—very credibly—as a visit by characters who have dropped in from another dimension.
Open Eye is run by art/life partners Michael Sommers and Susan Haas, and like many Open Eye productions, The Learning Fairy is a family affair: it stars the couple’s daughter Zoe Sommers Haas in the title role, with their Noah Sommers Haas playing in the band along with Sommers himself, who also directs. Rounding out the cast are the funny-as-always Carly Wicks as the Questioning Girl, Open Eye regular Julian McFaul as Mr. Make It, and Max Specktor as a third band member. The show was written collaboratively by the cast, with music written by Noah Sommers Haas and Specktor with lyrics by Zoe Sommers Haas.
Clocking in at under an hour, the show is nothing if not brisk. The cast burst out through a large round portal—the striking, detailed set is by Sommers—and launch immediately into a series of songs and skits that are connected by nothing but the various characters’ signature traits (the Questioning Girl questions, Mr. Make It spouts pseudoscience). Typically inventive puppets by Sommers occasionally appear, and projections move the action from ocean to desert to snowy northland. Everything is bright and colorful and loud in every sense of the word.
The show’s title may lead you to believe that it’s an educational program. It’s not, really, unless you count a generally up-with-people theme and a song about taking care of your body (at the Saturday matinee, that one particularly hit home with those of us who’d been abusing our livers the previous night) as “educational.” If you and/or your kids enjoy watching people go completely cuckoo in an up-close-and-personal theatrical context, The Learning Fairy is for you.
The kids at Saturday’s matinee certainly seemed to enjoy it, even if some of them might have wanted more of a…well, plot. At one point Wicks declared she was going to play hide-and-seek with herself, and dashed offstage. The other characters strolled on and started another skit. “When are they going to find her?” the young boy behind me asked his dad. They never did—Wicks just reappeared after a short time, and it was on with the show. Sometimes hide-and-seek, like theater, is about finding yourself—and the creators of The Learning Fairy have found themselves in some very strange circumstances.