An Ode to the Bit Part, or, A Tale of Two Lauras
By Ryan Albrechtson
Photo Credit: Traveling Lemur Productions
A wiseman once said, “Collaboration is key.” (Or, at least I think he did. I saw it on an inspirational Pinterest board.) But, it is true, especially the world of the performing arts. Now more than ever, it seems like the various groups and artists of the Milwaukee performing arts community are really beginning to understand this. It seems like everyone is collaborating these days - Danceworks, Milwaukee Opera Theatre, All In Productions, and more are joining forces to present larger, stronger pieces of art.
One group that does this particularly well is Theater RED. Almost everything they do seems to be a collaboration. Their current offering, Once Upon a Mattress, is no exception. They’ve teamed up with students and faculty from Carroll University to present this show at the Otteson Theatre in Waukesha, WI.
I saw the show this past weekend. It was a fun time! (And, to be fair, I knew almost everyone in the cast. And I happened to go to Carroll for my theatre arts degree… so the whole thing was pretty nostalgic.) It’s a solid show with a great group of artists telling the funny, whimsical tale of The Princess and the Pea.
Overall, I enjoyed the show. But, the thing that made me smile the most? The bit parts.
A different wiseman once said, “There are no small parts, only small actors.” (Or something like that.) But one of my favorite things about seeing a show is when a performer really inhabits a smaller role and makes it their own. These moments often steal the show for me, and I can’t count the amount of times that happened during Once Upon a Mattress.
For the sake of creatively titling this article, the two performers I want to mention are conveniently both named Laura. In the show, Laura McDonald and Laura Gray play the roles of Lady Lucille and Princess #12, respectively. Neither role is particularly large or plot-moving, but I couldn’t keep my eyes off of them. McDonald, who I’ve seen many times before (she’s basically the reigning queen of Greendale Community Theatre), has the best facial reactions ever. Whether she’s standing in the center of the stage or in back in the corner, she knows how to draw attention. Her commitment to this role really helped build the world of this kingdom in which the show takes place.
Laura Gray was my acting professor when I was in college, so I’ve also seen her work quite a bit. As the nameless Princess #12, she sets the tone for the show right from the beginning. As the show begins, Princess #12 is being tested to determine whether or not she is fit to marry the prince. Gray’s valley girl take on this small role, complete with a cringe-y, hilarious vocal fry on every word, totally captivated the audience. I could have watched an entire musical of just these two characters. (Did somebody say Once Upon a Mattress the sequel? Starring Lady Lucille and Princess #12? I’d buy a ticket.)
I’ve seen a lot shows where I walked away thinking, “This lead or that lead were great. Everyone else was fine.” It’s lovely when I can instead say, “They were great, down to each and every ensemble member.” And that’s what Once Upon a Mattress is. So, you know, go see it.
The show runs for three more performances at the Otteson Theatre in Waukesha, WI. More information can be found at theaterred.com.