A Joyfully Genderqueer Romp in ‘Once Upon a Mattress’ at Theo Ubique

Once Upon a Mattress is a 1959 musical comedy that presents a goofy reimagining of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale “The Princess and the Pea.” It tells the love story between the adorably awkward (and misleadingly named) Prince Dauntless and the bombastic Princess Winnifred (or Fred to her friends), buoyed by a supporting cast of royals, nobles, and courtiers embroiled in various scandals, japes, and shenanigans. Being a comedy from the 50’s that covers topics of love and marriage, it’s no surprise that Once Upon a Mattress leans heavily on some outdated and reductive gender roles for its laughs. The smart way around this, which director Landree Fleming has employed to hilarious effect, is to lampoon and subvert those roles at every turn — primarily by showcasing a cast that is visibly and joyfully trans, non-binary, and queer.

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Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre’s ‘Songs For A New World’ is a Refreshing and Revivifying Comeback for In-Person Theatre

I arrived at Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre about an hour before curtain for Songs For A New World.. I expected to grab my playbill and head to a local shop for a bite to eat before the play. Instead, I was seated at a round table and given a menu. The last time I had been to a live theatre show was February 2020. I let the nostalgia take hold and let myself bask in the quaintness of storefront theatre. I found myself content and satisfied that Songs for a New World, directed by Fred Anzevino, was my first show back.

Featuring a stripped back set (James Kolditz) with only a huge moon to background the performances, Anzevino’s production is an unembellished and sincere approach to a musical that could easily veer into the overwrought.  By focusing on the actors’ chemistry and performances, Anzevino allows for the lyrics and music to take the foreground. The musical lacks a singular plot and neat-and-tidy character development. Instead, each number works as a stand-alone vignette. What ties the numbers together are that each character sings about moments in their lives that have shaped or affected them in significant ways. Whether on the cusp of a happy moment, or on the brink of a devastating tragedy, each number feels like an invitation. “The River Won’t Flow,” by Man 1 (Eustace J. Williams) and Man 2 (Matthew Hunter), reminded me of the moments in my life where I felt like nothing I did would change my bad outcomes, and  “I’d Give It All For You,” sung by Man 2 & Woman 1 (Nora Navarro) reminded me of the loves in my life I could never turn my back on. In the last few months, I’ve only been able to think of all that I’ve lost. This production was an aesthetic prompting of all the life that has been lived and that will be lived in all the futures. Life has been more than this pandemic, and will be more than this pandemic.

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