Does anyone do fairy tales straight anymore? I don't think so—and that's a good thing. Even Disney threw out the old helpless princess saved by the handsome price routine over a decade ago. Still, no one has quite the same twisted take on childhood classics as author Jon Scieszka. He doesn't just reinvent fairy tales, he blows them to bits. In his world, the Ugly Duckling really is an ugly duckling, and she's totally okay with that, thank you very much.
Now Atlantic for Kids—the family wing of the decidedly grown-up Atlantic Theater Company—is bringing the ridiculous stories in Scieszka's 1992 book The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales to life and they are, as advertised, gleefully stupid. But they're also funny, silly, kooky and surprising and, best of all, the moral of the story is that there doesn't need to be one.
If you saw Atlantic's other collection of skewed stories Revolting Rhymes a few years back, this show is in the same vein, only stupider. Stinky Cheese features the same director, Tony nominee Elizabeth Swados, who, like Scieszka, doesn't play by the usual children's entertainment rules. In fact she throws out the book at the outset, literally, as big foam letters go flying across the stage.
While the characters and setups are familiar—the Princess and the Frog, Chicken Little, Cinderella, Rumpelstiltskin, Jack and the Giant, and the aforementioned Ugly Duckling are just some of the folks you meet—they don't get their usual happy endings. But that's okay, not everything in life needs to get wrapped up neatly in a pretty bow. Things move very quickly and songs, raps, interstitial bits, running gags and a few moments of audience participation are integrated into the action. If one scene doesn't grab you it's not long before you're on to something else, probably equally stupid.
Speaking of stupid, I heard a number of children (and a few parents) gasp at the liberal use of the word throughout the show. If it makes you bristle then Stinky Cheese is not for you. Some of the other things you'll encounter: A girl running around screaming "cow patty!" (à la the Little Boy Who Cried Wolf), lots of cross dressing and the demise of Chicken Little and his pals, who die when the roof actually does cave in.
Although the show is short at just under an hour, it is so fast-paced and jam-packed that it's best for school-age children. Even my seven-year-old had trouble following some of it but she still had a great time. And she seemed to get the point. After it was over, she turned to me laughing and said, "That was really, really stupid."
The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales is playing at the Atlantic Theater Company on Saturdays and Sundays at 10:30am through Sunday, April 7. Tickets are $20 for adults, $10 for children.
Read about other great things to do with kids in Chelsea including the best family-friendly restaurants in the neighborhood.
Photos by Ahron R. Foster.