The lobby of Seattle Children's Theatre saw its first-ever spontaneous prayer circle earlier this month, as parents from a Christian school asked the good lord to shepherd them through the valley of darkness that is Perô, a Dutch puppet play written for 6-year-olds.
Perô is one of SCT's more universal productions—local actress Julie Briskman said she was moved to tears by the show—with two piano-storytellers, commedia dell'arte–inflected puppets, the world's best dollhouses, and a simple but deep theme: feeling lovelorn.
Perô is a baker. Colombina, his longtime neighbor, is a washerwoman. Perô loves Colombina, but she doesn't seem to notice. Along comes a flashy painter who whisks Colombina away for a honeymoon but turns out to be a boor (he constantly demands she make him pasta and he eats like a slob). Colombina realizes she misses home and loves Perô, leaves the painter, happily ever after, etc.
The adult push-back to Perô has been tripartite: One, it admits that divorce is a fact in the world. (There isn't a musical number about it or anything, but it happens.) Two, it admits that children from different parents sometimes live together. (When Colombina's and Perô's children are revealed at the end, one looks an awful lot like the painter.) Three, during the courtship scene, Colombina invites the painter upstairs and we can see them kissing through her bedroom window. (Secks! Ewww!)
Never mind that one, many children in the audience are all too aware of divorce as a fact in the world; two, The Brady Bunch pretty much let that horse out of the stable 40 years ago; and three, adults who've courted and been invited upstairs to enjoy a little genital friction might see an oblique reference to sex—little kids won't. And even if they did, who cares? SCT plays often deal with difficult facts of life. In March, the theater will produce Getting Near to Baby, a play about two little girls whose infant sister dies. I can't imagine the Christians freaking out about that, though it seems a far thornier and potentially traumatizing topic.
It's sad—but sadly unsurprising—that the SCT gives kids more credit for being sentient than their own teachers and parents. The Christians are lucky they didn't get the London production of Perô, where Colombina woos the painter by taking off her bra and revealing little puppet breasts and little puppet nipples. The director, Onny Huisink, wanted to bring that version—created by Speeltheater Holland—to the U.S., but quickly abandoned that bit. The kids, according to SCT PR manager Jim Jewell, laughed for 20 minutes straight. Huisink, who is back in the Netherlands, didn't want to lose the kids, nor have the adults fixate on the breasts, so he took it out.
"Onny was surprised," Jewell said, "that American adults came to the theater with such dirty minds."