The Falcon   |   Volume 83, Issue 53

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Frog Prince’s magical world

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By , Staff Reporter

Published: May 22 2013

A kingdom to rule, a fair fiancée, a faithful servant — what more could a young prince ask for?

But it’s the classic tale — too arrogant for his own good, the prince denies the simple request of an old woman and finds himself transformed into an only-slightly-more-slimy amphibian, at the mercy of a selfless kiss to return him to human form.

Seattle Pacific University’s theatre department takes on this story in its final production of the school year, The Frog Prince, running this week at 7:30 p.m. in the backstage theatre on the E.E. Bach stage at McKinley Hall.

The play opens as the audacious prince, played by junior Zachary Christensen, gathers red flowers in the forest for his fiancée. He stumbles precipitately upon a knarled old hag who demands the flowers for herself. When he refuses with a heady mix of entitlement and sarcasm, she curses him to live as a frog until a loving kiss is placed upon his lips.

Written by acclaimed modern playwright David Mamet, The Frog Prince has seen interpretations on the prince’s transformation as varied as scales and fins to crutches to a full green suit. Adjunct theater professor and director C.T. Doescher opted for a more minimalist take, though he emphasizes the choice was discussed at length and decided on by the full cast.

Christensen dons unobtrusive black goggles and hovers in a perpetual crouch, navigating the stage with decidedly inhuman hops but retaining his powers of speech. “It’s simple, clear and magical,” Doescher says. “Each person has their own personal experience watching it — the bells ring differently for everyone.”

Powerless in the forest with only his trusty servant Bill, played by sophomore Gabriel Adams, the prince watches hopelessly as a distant cousin takes his crown and his bride. “The world is not ours to keep,” Doescher says. “The prince has everything, and then he has it all taken away. How do we deal with that?”

One can only hope we cope as well as the prince. After an initial ill-fated request to kiss the milk maid, played by senior Stephanie Jo Woods, the prince’s selfish tendencies begin to fade. He asks after his servant’s welfare and comforts the milk maid when her fiancée is arrested. He waxes philosophical, repentant, sensitive and wise.

“I loved living through that change,” Christensen said. Though difficult, it’s a role he handles with sympathy and dexterity.

And despite its heavy themes, The Frog Prince is a lively show riddled with the pithy observations and one-liners distinctive of Mamet’s style. There are few places one can hear “hola” and “doth” in the same sentence, but this is one of them.

Regardless, the prince’s trials are many. He experiences further loss when Bill is murdered and the milk maid, poignantly named Grace, prepares to go away. No longer consumed with self-love or a desire for freedom, he expresses genuine surprise when Grace observes “you have a good heart” and kisses him gently in farewell.

“In that moment, he sees himself redeemed,” Christensen muses. “It was rewarding to live through that as an actor.”

The prince barely registers his return to human form — removal of the mask and no more crouching — and the audience is left feeling that this culmination, while important, is not the play’s main message.

“We’re not going to spell it all out for you,” warns Hannah Schuerman, the sophomore who plays the old woman and instigator of the prince’s transformation. Her character is perhaps best understood as the immutable force of Mother Nature, who gives and takes without emotion or explanation.

When she asks him again for his flowers in the final scene, the prince hesitates. They’re his after all, and they’re for Bill’s grave. And they’re not only red this time — a color he has associated negatively with himself, his arrogance and his sloth — but contain blue and yellow as well.

He’s giving up control, memory, beauty, and she takes them with a simple thank you — “they’re lovely.” It’s a pleasure he’s been denied all his life, and he realizes with relief that red is more than his pride. Red is a good heart.

The play raises big questions nearly all of us can identify with but is also rife with ambiguity. Do we only know a good thing when it’s gone? Would we respond to loss with this much humility and openness to change? The Frog Prince gives us hope that with some loyalty, some grace and a little divine intervention, perhaps we can.

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