Atypical 'Aladdin' at Laguna's Moulton Theatre

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The genie is small, golden and snakelike, and the sand dunes are purple and lavender. Director Joe C. Lauderdale warns audiences to expect the unexpected in "The Dream of Aladdin," the Laguna Playhouse Youth Theatre production opening tonight at the Moulton Theatre.

The family play won't be the usual fairy tale, according to Lauderdale. "It's a blend of slapstick, broad comedy and three-dimensional characters," he said in a recent interview. "There's something for everyone, age 4 and up."

The show's contemporary connection is its exploration of adolescent Angst. "Aladdin is a typical teen-ager, questioning who he is, what his purpose is in life," Lauderdale said. "He's flippant about making decisions and doesn't want to accept responsibility.

"The script gets a little philosophical, but there's a lot of spectacle--dancing, color, explosions, a lot of sound. There's enough there for younger kids to enjoy, even in the dialogue and the story of how Aladdin saves the princess."

Direct audience involvement is an important part of the show. Throughout the play, Aladdin seeks the audience's help in decision-making. "At various points in the play," Lauderdale explained, "the action comes to a stop, and he goes to the audience to ask what he should do. At the end of the play, he decides to make the choice himself without help. . . . Ultimately, he learns the choices we make have consequences that affect other people."

Lauderdale said the colorful set was inspired by the paintings of Henri Matisse. "The colors are saturated and solid, no distortion, no darkening," he said, and the "perspective is a little off."

There's no specific time period. "The costumes and sets are a blending of various cultures--Egyptian, Russian, Oriental," Lauderdale said. "We tried to meld the cultures together. There's even one costume with a hint of Elizabethan style."

As for the minimal stage design--"a small playing area, a couple of levels a foot high, a few sand dunes"--Lauderdale said that while he has "always been one to go for much more" when it comes to stage sets, he felt differently when he read this script.

"I kept seeing this vast expanse of desert with not much else there," he said. "Basically, our play takes place in Aladdin's desert." The rest of the set pieces are, he pointed out, "brought on by hand."

For example, the sultan's throne room features only an Egyptian-style throne, a few pillows and a vaulted ceiling. After all, Lauderdale said, "the play is called 'The Dream of Aladdin.' We're never sure if Aladdin is dreaming or not."

The young director said the unpublished script by respected playwright Brian Kral ("Troubled Waters" and "Step on a Crack") is "one of the best" versions of the Aladdin story he's read. He also enjoyed adding his own atypical touches, such as the snakelike genie.

"Most people are expecting a huge, powerful genie," Lauderdale said. "Ours is a very small genie with a lot of power."

Most of the 13 cast members, ranging from age 13 to adult, play multiple roles. Rehearsals have taken five weeks, and Lauderdale is pleased with the results.

"We had a lot of new people show up for auditions," he said, "and they did very well. We'll have a wider variety of people to call on in the future."

Although the Laguna Playhouse offers theater-arts training programs and has an ensemble to call upon, Lauderdale stressed that auditions for the Youth Theatre shows are open to the public. "I choose the best person for the role," he said.

"The Dream of Aladdin" is part of an eclectic Youth Theatre season that began last October with "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow." Its next production, "Prodigy," opening in April, will be a departure from classic literature, exploring the childhood of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The season concludes in June with the musical gangster parody "Bugsy Malone."

The Laguna Playhouse Youth Theatre presents "The Dream of Aladdin" at the Moulton Theatre, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach. Through March 3. Performances on Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m.; matinees on Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m. Running time: 90 minutes, including intermission. Signed performance for the hearing-impaired on Saturday, Feb. 23. Tickets: $8 for adults; $5 for ages 13 and under. Information: (714) 494-8021.

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