Out of their medieval minds

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Near the end of Act I of “Once Upon a Mattress,” Prince Dauntless (Andrew Bezek ’13) turns to the audience, finding the words to confess his love for Princess Winnifred (Molly Sinnott ’15). She shrugs it off, singing, “He is out of his medieval mind.” Princess Winnifred is right. Everyone in the Yale Drama Coalition’s production of “Once Upon A Mattress” is crazy, in the best way.

The show begins with a quick summary of the Princess and the Pea. The Minstrel, played by Jeremy Weiss ’15, enters a stage with a backdrop reminiscent of a puppet show theater decorated in primary colors. He sings a song about a prince in search of a bride, the princess who arrives at his castle door one stormy night and the insomnia, induced by a mere pea, that proved the vagabond was a genuine princess. The Minstrel’s song warns the audience not to be fooled by the semblance of simplicity; he will reveal the complicated truth behind the familiar fairy tale.

What ensues definitely outgrows any childish tale the audience hitherto may have been expecting. As the title might suggest, “Once Upon a Mattress” is fraught with sexual tension. In the opening scenes, the lords and ladies of the court paw at each other as they lament the law dictating, “no one may wed until Prince Dauntless shares his marriage bed.” The frustration of denied desire is soon broken when Sir Harry (Nathaniel Dolquist ’14) and Lady Larkin (Mary Kleshefsky ’13) leap into one another’s arms in a soap-opera worthy moment of private passion.

The emphasis on sexual tension manifests itself in the central problem of a premarital pregnancy, the reverse Oedipus complex of a self-impressed Queen Aggravain, played by Steffi Weinraub ’12, and the hilariously awkward Father-Son-birds-and-the-bees talk spelled out through charades.

The actors shine in moments like these when they turn to hyperbole, when they make a character into a caricature. Bezek successfully plays Prince Dauntless as a naïve and loveable boy in a man’s body. Sinnott arrives on stage as Princess Winnifred with all of the grace of Jersey’s Shore’s Snooki — a Snooki who has been sufficiently dragged through a nasty swamp. And although he is mute, the mischievously horny King Sextimus (Seth Lifland ’15) exaggerates his body language to become one of the most entertaining figures in the entire play.

The show is at its most ridiculous — and therefore its best — during the big and boisterous song and dance numbers. One of the highlights of the show is a tap dance preformed by the Jester (Brady Ward ’14). “Once Upon a Mattress” is not afraid to have characters hold hands and skip in a circle or playfully whip one another with the ribbons of their twirling batons or come into the aisle and dance among the audience.

The show’s weaker moments arrive when the sincerity of the characters’ feelings becomes ambiguous, but these moments are quite brief and few and far between. Most of the time, the show is just deliciously silly, so much so that most of the cast collapsed into giggles by the end of dress rehearsal on Wednesday night.

The show begins and ends with the chorus singing, “You can recognize a Lady by her elegant hair, but a genuine princess is exceedingly rare.” So is a genuine laugh, so go see “Once Upon A Mattress.”

“Once Upon a Mattress” is playing at the Saybrook Underbrook Friday at 8 p.m. and Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m.

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