“Rapunzel Alone” Audio Play–Review by Andrea Santo Felcone


Prior to listening to this fully-produced, stand-alone audio theater recording of “Rapunzel Alone” by playwright Mike Kenny, I assumed it would be a re-telling of the Rapunzel tale—a ‘fractured fairytale’ of sorts–with the usual ingredients: a tower, a witch, and a handsome prince climbing his way up Rapunzel’s extremely long locks. While that would have been fine, this production is so much more. More clever and more subtle than what I was imagining ahead of listening. This is really something else entirely, with much more sophistication and depth.Rapunzel Alone

Before we dive in, I need to tell you something interesting, especially for those Motherhood Later friends who live on the West Coast: This audio recording–which is available for FREE now at www.thewallis.org/rapunzel, is being released in advance of the world premiere production of “Rapunzel Alone” that will be presented live-in-performance next spring. So, two pieces of “Rapunzel Alone” art: an audio version and live performances. (How fun is that?) The live performances, presented by 24th Street Theatre in association with the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts (https://www.thewallis.org/), will take place March 12 through March 19 at The Wallis (Beverly Hills, Ca.), followed by a six-week run, March 26 through May 1, at 24th Street Theatre (Los Angeles) https://www.24thstreet.org/. However, the audio recording is available to enjoy presently.

O.K., now that I have explained the link between what I listened to, and its future theatrical life, let’s explore “Rapunzel Alone”—the audio version:

It’s 1944 and bombs are falling in London. Lettie’s parents are giving their efforts to the war and feel they are unable to keep twelve-year-old Lettie safe, so they arrange for her to be evacuated to the country to live with a woman they don’t know, but who has agreed to care for their daughter. It’s heartbreaking when Lettie’s mum pins a letter to Lettie–instructions for taking care of her–all the things her daughter likes to do, and eat, etc. Miss Pearce, a woman who has never had children, who has lived alone for many years, manages her family’s farm. She has isolated herself from the village townsfolk, and she has the reputation of being “a witch”. Miss Pearce lives by a few mottos, one being she doesn’t like people who go out into the world carrying a suitcase that is heavier than they can carry on their own, as if the world’s going to pick it up for them. Lesson one: Lettie must learn to “carry her own suitcase”.

Lettie and Miss Pearce have a rough go of it to start. After Miss Pearce finds lice on Lettie, she cuts off most of Lettie’s hair and then keeps it short, much to Lettie’s chagrin. Life on the farm is harsh, and very different from the life Lettie left in London, before the war. There is a particularly pesky goose named Gertrude who makes Lettie’s life a living nightmare—but who adds a nice mix of comic relief.

As this well-conceived story progresses, we come to see character growth, and an understanding develops between Lettie and Miss Pearce. Miss Pearce helps the illiterate Lettie ‘write’ notes to her parents—Lettie dictates and Miss Pearce writes. Miss Pearce wants to teach Lettie to read and write, but when Lettie shows interest in reading the Rapunzel fairytale, Miss Pearce is mysteriously uncooperative. There is one thing Lettie cannot deny though, Miss Pearce and she have something very important in common. While Lettie’s mum assumed Miss Pearce (because of her high-level literacy) was a white woman; she is not. Lettie is of mixed race, and this opens the door for a mutual understanding between the two. Lettie and Miss Pearce pass the time as best they can as bombers fly overhead to London. In these stressful circumstances, Miss Pearce comes to care for the girl and does her best to distract Lettie from what these bombs could mean for the safety of her parents.

The introduction of another character, a young boy named Conrad, creates an even richer dynamic of relationships: As Miss Pearce allows herself to grow closer to Lettie, Lettie grows closer to Conrad, pulling away from her guardian. There is also a great twist at the end with regard to Conrad, that hopefully you will find as delightful as I did.

Overall, there is a lot to unpack here thematically, although the story can be enjoyed for its charming appeal alone. Is finding safety for a twelve-year-old, mixed-race girl in a rural, homogenous community the equivalent of isolating her in a tower? Is there a point where protection strays too far and becomes imprisonment? Interesting conversations could come from exploring some of these themes with older children.

Although the content is serious, the story flows along in a very charming manner. This audio recording features the talented voices of Rayna Campbell, Brian Inerfeld, Jay McAdams and Feyisola Soetan, and is narrated, delightfully, by the playwright himself.

Recommended for adults and children ages 7 and up. All told, a rich tale that stands alone or serves as a great preview for those who have the opportunity to attend the future live performances. In one word: “charming”.

Written by Mike Kenny
Directed by Debbie Devine and Jesus Castaños-Chima
Audio Production, Sound Design and Foley by Jeff Gardner
Featuring Rayna Campbell, Brian Inerfeld, Mike Kenny, Jay McAdams, and Feyisola Soetan
Produced by Jennie McInnis
Original Music Composition by Brad Brough
Sound Editing by Neil Wogensen
Casting by Michael Donovan, CSA & Richie Ferris, CSA
Publicity by Lucy Pollak, PR
Lettie’s Sketchbook designed by Matthew G. Hill with illustrations by Leah Abazari (A supplemental art project available to download alongside the play.)

Running Time: 1 hour.

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