Early in Douglas Carter Beane’s new comedy Fairycakes, a cricket randomly bursts onto the stage. That cricket’s brief and exceedingly strange appearance gives a good taste, it turns out, of exactly what we’re in for.
The scene is busy even before the cricket arrives. The fairy Cobweb (Z Infante) has given Cinderella (Kuhoo Verma) her makeover and is sending her off to the ball. They are interrupted by Pinocchio (Sabatino Cruz), pursued by his harried creator Geppetto (Mo Rocca). Alongside Geppetto is Peaseblossum (Kristolyn Lloyd), another fairy and the source of Pinocchio’s magical new life. To make her new creation sit still, Peaseblossum decides, for some reason, to conjure a cricket.
And so a very game Jamen Nanthskumar rushes on stage in full-body cricket costume. He monologues incoherently about the “golden rules of life” for a few moments, until Pinocchio swats him, announcing: “This is annoying.” The cricket screams in pain, finally declares, “Disney folks won’t tell this part,” then sulks off stage, dead.
This bizarre interlude feels like a perfect encapsulation of Fairycakes as a whole: strange and off-kilter, with way too much going on, but enjoyable so long as you don’t think about it too much.
Beane’s play is written in verse and pulls characters from both Shakespeare and classic fairytales, throwing them into an enchanted forest where magic and mishaps ensue. Beane, best known for The Little Dog Laughed and his book for the musical Xanadu, has assembled a dream cast of New York thespians to inhabit this world, with Jackie Hoffman, Ann Harada, Julie Halston, and Jason Tam among them.
Fairycakes spends much of its first act just introducing everyone, expanding and expanding a very busy forest — a forest that, in Beane’s staging (he also directs) unfortunately feels very cramped on the Greenwich House Theater stage. Still, once you accept the madness and realize Beane is never going to pause for breath (see: cricket), the mayhem grows more fun. In this regard, Beane gets a huge assist from Gregory Gale, whose delightfully garish costumes get many a satisfying reveal.
And when the chaos does start to get old, Beane still has that incredible cast to lean on. The surprising standout is Jason Tam, who truly understood the assignment, toggling between ludicrous accents and galloping across stage like a living cartoon. Kristolyn Lloyd is luminous and charismatic, despite an underwritten part. Arnie Burton and Julie Halston are old hands at this, and it’s a joy to watch them play.
Beane deploys Jackie Hoffman in careful proportions throughout Fairycakes. Now, if you allow Hoffman to simply take over your show, she will — and that can be gret as well (see: On the Town). But here she is used judiciously, popping in to steal a scene here or wail a few notes there, then triumphantly gliding away, her work complete.
At two hours plus intermission, Beane’s text is begging for some judicious cutting. Certainly a surprise narrative turn which upends the text in act two should instead have come before intermission. A different director might have helped Beane in this regard, and kept things moving at a brisker pace.
The play’s treatment of queerness is also strange, if not completely outdated. Beane has the imagination to reconceive classical characters and throw them into a magical world wholly of his creation — yet his text still treats two male characters falling in love as a shocking, boundary-shaking development. Given the show’s diverse cast and Beane’s contemporary lens, Fairycakes is crying out for some joyful queerness and sex positivity. But a world without homophobia was apparently one imagining too far.
Despite all its issues, Fairycakes will win you over. There’s joy in seeing such a gorgeous array of theatrical royalty over-acting their hearts out, prancing around in silly costumes and, by all appearances, just thoroughly enjoying themselves. Sure, bring on the cricket — why the hell not.
Photo credit: Kristolyn Lloyd and Chris Myers in Fairycakes. (Photo by Matthew Murphy)