Theater Review: Vampires are fun for adults, tooBy Jim Lowe
Staff Writer | February 18,2013Jim Lowe / Staff photo
Tim Jennings and Leanne Ponder regale a Montpelier audience with their macabre tales.Storytelling is for kids. But it can also be fascinating, as well as richly rewarding for adults — if it’s done by master storytellers and musicians Tim Jennings and Leanne Ponder.
“‘The Vampire Princess’ and Other Eerie Folktales,” Jennings and Ponder’s latest show, opened Thursday at City Hall Arts Centers, with its mostly adult audience asking for more. The 90-minute show combining traditional but macabre stories and folk music, part of Lost Nation Theater’s “Winterfest 2013,” which ran through Sunday.
This new show features the premiere of their “The Vampire Princess,” a juicier version of “The Sleeping Beauty.”
In this riveting, macabre and often very funny tale, the king is terribly worried about his beautiful young daughter who sleeps all day.
It turns out that she’s a vampire — but that’s only the beginning.
Thursday’s performance seemed to keep the audience on the edge of its collective seat, thanks to some theatrically very skilled delivery.
In this well-choreographed performance, Jennings and Ponder each took on different characters, alternating the narrative. Their intimate ensemble work and canny sense of timing resulted in rich entertainment. (They will be recording this for a new CD of eerie tales.)
Interspersed between this and other tales were musical interludes — some involving audience participation — of traditional songs of varying origins.
Jennings is an unusually adept and nuanced concertina player, and is matched by Ponder on Celtic harp in these well-arranged folk songs that mix simple but beautiful music with the ancient tales.
These days, folks forget that “Grimms’ Fairy Tales,” collected and retold by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm in their 1812 anthology, were anything but sweet. More importantly, they were not original to the Grimm brothers.
Like all traditional storytellers they were passing on ancient tales retold for countless different generations. The difference was that the Grimms wrote them down.
Jennings and Ponder, central Vermonters who have been touring and regaling audiences for more than a quartet century, are following in this tradition.
They find old tales, either in books or by hearing them, make them their own — and turn them into theater.
While Thursday’s performance wasn’t perfect, it was of an unusually high level, and richly rewarding.
A particularly macabre tale, apparently only for Valentine’s Day, was the Grimm-based “The Juniper Tree.” Despite its hate and lies, a decapitation and cannibalism, it proved not only funny but touching. Such is the skill of Jennings and Ponder.
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