Peter and the Wolf Grow Up
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Peter and the Wolf Grow Up

Adolescence is tricky, and Theatre Rusticle's adult interpretation of the Russian fable Peter and the Wolf has its share of growing pains.

Matthew Romantini (Peter, right) and David Smukler (his grandfather, left) capture William Yong (the Wolf, upside down). Photo by R. Kelly Clipperton.

Peter and the Wolf

The Theatre Centre (1087 Queen Street West)
September 6–10, 7:30 p.m. and September 10–11, 2 p.m.
$22, or $15 for students/seniors/artsworkers

As most of us are aware, childhood stories are usually much more “adult” than they seem. Death, fear, and violence are all commonplace (usually at the hand of some sort of malevolent wolf). So it’s not surprising that when the cast of Theatre Rusticle’s Peter and the Wolf began exploring the classic Russian children’s story by Sergei Prokofiev , it didn’t take long for them to realize this production wasn’t going to be just another romp through the big green meadow. It was headed someplace darker. And though the transformation isn’t always smooth, ultimately, it adds another thematic layer to the text—which is exactly what Theatre Rusticle aims to do with its shows.

In their interpretation of the story, in which Peter proves “boys like him aren’t afraid of wolves” and captures the beast that has evaded the town’s hunters, it becomes not so much an example of triumph of good over evil as a dissection of loss, mortality, and friendship. The world may have seemed black and white to Peter as a child, but as he grew up, who knows how he may have come to perceive the supposedly monstrous creature? So that’s what director (and artistic director of Theatre Rusticle) Allyson McMackon does—age both Peter (David Smukler) and The Wolf (William Yong) to the night before Peter’s death.

The rest of the show recounts moments in Young Peter’s (Matthew Romantini) life, as a sort of prequel to where the Russian tale begins. Peter loses both of his parents and lives with his grandfather, meets his friends The Bird and The Duck in rather gruesome circumstances, and doesn’t have his victorious run-in with the carnivorous canine until two-thirds of the way through the show. Told mostly through dance, some expository scenes seemed longer than necessary, like a slow motion ice-skating scene with some awkwardly held arabesques, and several involving The Cat (Wesley Connor) attacking everything Peter brought home (though, cleverly costumed as a chef). This did, however, give the cast the opportunity to develop each character in a way that’s missing from the original tale. Each animal has its own story involving the death of a loved one or the constant fear of its species’ extinction, all the way to the additional ending at the circus where we see the agony of a captive Lion, Bear, and Giraffe. It also gives Peter the opportunity to show maturity and redeem himself by letting The Wolf—who has become a sort of mentor to the boy—go free.

Thematically, this is clear. But as all coming-of-age stories have, there are a few growing pains coming mostly from inconsistencies in style choices. Most off-putting was the language of the script, which is very poetic and image-heavy for the majority of the play. But every now and then there are jarring changes in tone, especially in The Cat (when stalking his prey: “Not now Peter, I’m working”) and The Hunter (when in pursuit of the Wolf: “You’re so dumb… I’m gonna eat you.”), as well as a shift to straight, first-person narration when the show comes to the actual Peter and the Wolf story. (“My grandfather told me, ‘What if a wolf came out of the forest?’… and I said ‘Boys like me aren’t afraid of wolves.'”). There are inconsistencies in character (why is The Duck being so mean to his new ice-skating friends?) and period (those are some mighty big tea cups for a story written in 1936), and the pacing could be sped up significantly too.

But as the biggest collaboration that Theatre Rusticle has taken on yet, Peter and the Wolf remains a commendable piece of work. Especially in the involvement of live music—Patric Caird’s original score fills Peter’s new, adult world with beautiful and, at times, chilling soundscapes: the scene when Peter meets the Bird for the first time in a less-than-hospitable forest is absolutely made by the off beat and eerie thumps of the drum and screeches of a violin bow.

Growing up and facing the darker elements of life is never easy, and there are always stumbles along the way, as McMackon and the cast exemplify thematically and artistically. But ultimately, it’s a journey worth taking, and one that Theatre Rusticle should continue.