The Composer is Dead, theater is alive

Geoff Hoyle as the Inspector grills the conductor. Berkley Rep photo

We love the theater, and we would like the grandkids to love it, too.  So we want to expose them early and often to the magic of living, breathing theater.

That’s why Ross and Julie came up this weekend–so we could take grandsons Blake and Beaux to Berkeley Rep to see The Composer is Dead, a play by the brilliant writer Lemony Snicket, the author of A Series of Unfortunate Events. {hmm, I feel like that sentence has 3 subjects, and yet I can’t parse it any better.  Did Hemingway have these problems?}

The play is designed for kids–65 minutes, one act, no intermission.  Lots of laughs, marvelous production values, music, lights, puppets and a movie.  Boredom is impossible, even for the 9 year old.

The play is designed for adults–witty word play, deep puns, classical music, excellent acting.  This isn’t like sitting through Finding Nemo because the kids want to see it.

There is only one live actor–Geoff Hoyle.  We saw him recently in Scapin at ACT, and continue to be awed by his talent.  In the first half of this play, he is interacting with a movie, where all the characters are puppets.  He is the genial host/emcee of the evening, explaining how we will all love “the magic of living, breathing the-a-ter”, with the frequent, gentle repetition that children so love.

In the second part, Hoyle is the Inspector, attempting to find out who killed the Composer, interrogating the members of the orchestra, all of whom are also puppets. The puppetry detail is fascinating–the strings had heads like the curved head of a violin, the brass had heads like the bells of a trumpet, the flutes were all in silver, the shirts had musical scores on them.

Berkeley Rep is becoming some kind of center for great puppetry–we last were there to see Compulsion, a dead serious play which also featured puppets.

The Composer is Dead stems from a book Snicket (who is actually a San Francisco resident named Daniel Handler) wrote to introduce children to classical music, and the play then becomes a way to introduce theater to them as well.  Television and movies just can’t compete with the  breath-taking, awe inspiring moments of theater, such as when the curtains open in the second part to reveal a large ballroom and you can hear the entire audience collectively inhaling.

Sadly, the last scene, the inspector’s summation, was the weakest part of the show.  Making the entire premise turn on a weak joke is beneath the quality of the rest of the writing, and diminished the play considerably for me, yet I know that the kids didn’t notice or understand.  I’m still glad we took them, and recommend that you take your kids/grandkids, too

One thought on “The Composer is Dead, theater is alive

  1. Pingback: Nuclear War in 2011 | War – What Is It Good For? – Absolutely Everything

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