The Alternative Repertory Theatre is venturing into children's theater for the first time in its eight-year history, with a production of Diane Doyle's "Aesop's Fables: Rags, Ropes and Sticks" that opens tonight.
Intended for children ages 6 and up as well as adults, the one-hour play dramatizes 18 of Aesop's stories ranging from the well-known "The Fox and the Grapes" to the rarely told "The Tortoise and the Eagle." "Rags, Ropes and Sticks," with a cast of two children and four adults, will be performed Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through April 16.
Although the production is billed as a world premiere, some may remember seeing at least snatches of the play last year. Doyle, currently on hiatus as director of South Coast Repertory's Young Conservatory in Costa Mesa, produced a 20-minute version last spring with Young Conservatory students and brought it to a handful of community centers and schools as well as to the Orange County Performing Art Center's Founders Hall as part of the annual Imagination Celebration.
At the request of ART's directors, Doyle expanded the original script to include more stories and wove them together with a new story line. As directed by ART's Patricia L. Terry, the show opens with a tour guide leading visitors through ancient Greek ruins. When they come upon a worker repairing a mosaic that depicts scenes from Aesop's fables, the worker cuts short the guide's monologue to invite the tourists to appreciate the stories by acting them out, which, of course, they do.
"We look for plays that are pertinent to life and society today," says ART co-founder Gary Christensen. "And we tend to choose pieces that (stress) language and ideas. In this script, Diane has laid contemporary ideas over the original language of the stories in a very effective way."
Christensen said that ART decided to try a family show in an effort to reach a broader segment of the community and, not incidentally, to satisfy educational outreach mandates dictated by many organizations to whom ART applies for funding.
"We needed to branch out and find a program that could eventually go into the community," Christensen said. "Our usual shows wouldn't play too well to young children, but we hope that down the road, we'll be able to go into schools with a children's show."
* "Aesop's Fables: Rags, Ropes and Sticks" by Diane Doyle opens today at the Alternative Repertory Theatre, 1636 S. Grand Ave., Santa Ana. 8 p.m. $8 to $16. Through April 15. (714) 836-7929.