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Theater Review: "Shockheaded Peter"

Sarah Errignton in "Shockheaded Peter"
Photo credit:
Daren Scott

“The mind is full of monsters,” says the Emcee (Sarah Errington). Those of a weak constitution leave now, such things are not for the incontinent.”

I’m a big fan of parodies like “Twisted Tales from Shakespeare” and “Fractured Fairy Tales.”

But monsters? Not so much. So take this with a big grain of whatever monsters put on their popcorn.

“Shockheaded Peter” is a sort of Victorian steampunk version of 19th-century children’s stories written by German physician Heinrich Hoffmann in 1845.

Finding the kiddie lit of the time too sentimental, didactic or boring, he wrote his own and gave (or read) it to his three-year-old.

Rob Lutfy directs Julian Crouch and Phelim McDermott’s stage adaptation of “Shockheaded Peter” through June 18 at Cygnet Theatre.

The show offers ten misbehaving tots who disobey their parents and end up, shall we say, badly. Very badly. 

Peter himself is the long hoped-for offspring of Father (Adrian Alita) and Mother (Kevane La’Marr Coleman). The parents are thrilled at the prospect of parenthood ... until they see Peter, “with his nasty hair and his nasty hands. See his nails are never cut – they are grimed and full of soot.” 

Well, this Mother and Father toss Peter down what we might call a manhole cover.

So much for parental love and acceptance.

The show goes on like this, describing misbehavers like Augustus, who refused to eat his soup (and died); Conrad, who sucked his thumbs (and had them cut off) and Flying Robert, who flew, all right, but was never seen again.

Production values are high.

The “Cabaret” look and setup (with Emcee) is kind of fun, and Errington (onstage almost the whole time) is engaging and seems to be having a whale of a time. 

Steve Gouveia plays Siren, who is not seducing sailors but singing most of the songs.

Gouveia has a spectacular (and incredibly high) voice, and is always a joy to hear (I remember him fondly from La Jolla Playhouse’s “Jersey Boys”).

Here, he has apparently been asked to screech. I guess the technique is fitting for the character, but these old ears were hoping for the old Steve. 

Adrian Alita and Kevane La’Marr Coleman play Father and Mother, the only other listed characters, with droll evil, if there is such a thing.

Coleman looks particularly lovely in his pouffy 19th-century frock.

Shirley Pierson’s other costumes are suitably grotesque (and speaking of that, oh my, check out Peter Herman’s wigs). Pierson also gets credit for the puppets, like everything else weird but effective.

The designed ugliness of this show is not to my taste, but I loved Danielle Airey, doing a lovely Cirque du Soleil-style aerial dance.

Michael Mizerany’s odd but fascinating choreography is also fun to watch.

“Shockheaded Peter” is not for all tastes. But for those who like horror stories and grotesquerie, Cygnet is the place to be.

The details

“Shockheaded Peter” plays through June 18, 2017 at Cygnet Theatre, 4040 Twiggs Street in Old Town.

Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 pm; Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 3 and 8 pm.; Sunday at 2 and 7 pm

Tickets: (619) 337-1525 or www.cygnettheatre.com