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REVIEW: 'A cast of true theatrical hams'

Prince Dauntless, left, played by Jack Mitchell, talks to Princess Winifred, right, played by Brooke Pejsa, during a recent rehearsal for "Once Upon a Mattress." (Candy DenOuden/Republic)

There is a very good reason why many of us have fond memories of theater, particularly staged fairy tales, going back to our childhoods. I clearly remember a traveling production of "Peter Pan" when I was probably 5 years old that captivated my imagination and instilled in me a love of theater that I experience to this day.

That is why it was such a treat for me to attend Area Community Theatre's production of "Once Upon a Mattress"-- a silly comedic, musical telling of the story of "The Princess and the Pea."

Director Cheri Hamilton has assembled a cast of true theatrical hams who perform remarkably and will leave you laughing.

Queen Aggravain (Karen Harrington) is determined to let no one come between her and her darling son, Prince Dauntless (Jack Mitchell). To keep him from marrying, she has instituted a set of tests that only a "true" princess can pass. Twelve have failed, but will Number 13 succeed? To make matters more complicated, Aggravain has placed a ban on all marriages in the kingdom until the prince weds. Sir Harry (Paul Mah) and Lady Larken (Elsa Tapio) have fallen in love and are in a big hurry (of the nine-month variety) to walk down the aisle. Harry is determined to find a princess who can pass the test: enter Princess Winifred (Brooke Pejsa).

Complications ensue involving the Queen's mute husband, King Sextimus the Silent (Kim Lorenzen), who is cursed; a jester (Twyla Mah) and a minstrel (Chris Lippert). The queen conspires with the wizard (A.J. Bierman) to devise a test that the princess will fail. And finally the big night arrives. Will Winifred be able to sleep atop 20 soft mattresses, or will the presence of one tiny pea reveal her as a princess too sensitive to sleep on such an irritating item as that?

Lorenzen is the center of attention whenever he appears on stage. His ability to make you laugh with only facial expressions and exaggerated gestures is uncanny. Jack Mitchell returns to the ACT stage perfectly cast as the naive prince who is dominated by his haranguing mother, the talented Harrington.

Brooke Pejsa is an absolute delight as Princess Winifred. She is bold and brassy, and a perfect counterpoint to the tentative prince. Her big musical number "Shy" is a riot and "Song of Love" will leave the audience breathless. Other musical highlights include "The Minstrel, The Jester and I" and "Man to Man Talk" in which Lorenzen performs in pantomime. The solo piano accompaniment by Karleen Jung is the perfect light touch for this brand of musical comedy.

Hamilton's set is a simple castle evocative of children's cardboard building blocks. The costumes are a cartoonish take on medieval gowns and robes. The hair, combining actual cast members' hair and ridiculous wigs, helps solidify the fairy tale look.

This show is a great close to the 2012-2013 season and will give your family something to laugh about. And maybe someone's 5-year-old will fall in love with theater watching this show the way I did many years ago.

The show by Area Community Theatre has performances at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Pepsi-Cola Theatre. Tickets are on sale at the theater, and more information is available at 996-9137 or www.mitchellact.org.

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