MAY 2024 | Volume 239


Production image

Carousel Theatre The Papa Penguin Play (left to right) Katie Voravong, Jeffrey Follis, Kosta Lemermeyer, Rae Takei. Photo by Ryan Alexander McDonald.

The Papa Penguin Play
by Dave Deveau
Carousel Theatre for Young People
Waterfront Theatre, Granville Island
May 15-26
From $18

Carousel Theatre’s The Papa Penguin Play, by Dave Deveau, celebrates the queer family and drag culture in a move that overtly counters current attempts across North America to demonize queerness and drag in all their manifestations, especially among children. The story of a young penguin with two dads is designed and performed with panache, but whether it will appeal to a broad audience of 3-8 year-olds, as Carousel has defined its target audience, is an open question.

Katie Voravong plays Hedgie, a young penguin in a zoo enclosure waiting for her dads to arrive to celebrate her birthday. She talks to the audience and to a character dressed in a colourful, mixed-gender cowperson outfit called Mister Sister (Rae Takei), who introduces himself as The Narrator.

Then we cut to adult penguins Peaches (KostaLemermeyer) and Izzy (Jeffrey Follis) in elaborate drag, who put on a song-and-dance show. Later, it will be explained that they are “show penguins,” performing for the zoo’s spectators.

Not until relatively late in the play, when Izzy complains that he’s tired of what they’re doing and wants to have a baby, do we realize that for Peaches and Izzy, Hedgie hasn’t been born yet, and Hedgie—waiting for her dads to arrive—is literally waiting for her birth-day to come. This is a pretty sophisticated metaphysical twist.

Mister Sister finds a spare egg that Peaches and Izzy cultivate. When it hatches, the baby appears as a little penguin puppet (operated by Hedgie). The cuteness and sweetness of the story and its presentation take over from that point to the end.

Director Cameron Mackenzie does a fine job with the adult characters. Lemermeyer and Follis are terrific drag performers. They sing and dance with conviction, and Takei, though not as dynamic as they are, has style that charms. Kimira Reddy’s set, a simple stone wall, rotatesto reveal a dream drag dressing room stocked with dresses, wigs, boas, jewelry and mirrors.

But until Stephanie Elgersma’s adorable puppets arrive, the Hedgie character doesn’t have much to do except ask where her dads are. And nothing in her costume or movements suggests “penguin.” I wonder what the five-year-olds make of her, or of the tall vamping men in dresses lip-synching “This Is My Life.”(Nor do the dads wear anything to suggest that they are penguins. No costume designer is credited in the press release.)

At one point the Narrator says, “Being different is a kind of magic,” and later says something like “everyone enjoys dressing up.” Sure, but I can’t help thinking that,from a little kid’s perspective, the show really comes alive when the cute puppets arrive, the four actors interact, and we see a young family in action, penguins or not.

The two dads ooh and aah over their new baby, wonder why she won’t sleep, and when she grows to be a toddler they’re exhausted by her insistence that, whatever they do to amuse her, they have to do it “Again!” And “again!” And “again!”There’s not a parent alive that wouldn’t recognize those realities.

As a heterosexual adult seeing this show without my granddaughters, I’m probably about the most anomalous audience possible. I enjoyed most of it, but the dull stretches for me must, I think, have been dull for the kids, too. I’d like to see it grab the little ones’ interest and attention more quickly, and not take so long to get daughter and dads together.




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