Curtain Call: The Tales of Desperaux is a Family-Friendly Affair With Cross-Generational Appeal

From the first song — including a prologue, a love letter to librarians and storytelling — it was clear you that, by sheer talent alone, the Pig Pen Co. Theatre production would appeal to any age demographic in attendance.

The tale is one that’s, say, been told in some manner more than a few times: A distraught, troubled princess finds herself in the midst of a cross-species impasse, one worsened by malicious vermin. At its literary core, it’s not unlike the Nutcracker. But with a less insidious twist.

Pulled from the tellings of the Nobel Award-winning children, book, circa 2003, this five-act installment (with no intermission) is shorter than the original fifteen-act play. However, The Tales of Despereaux at Berkeley’s Repertory Theatre is far from a distilled, lukewarm iteration of the longer play.

In a family-friendly 95(ish)-minutes, sans any pause or break for the audience, the New York City-based theater company manages to delight, no matter your generational stamping.  Often humorous, always tender, never dull, the Tale of Despereaux (Dorcas Leung) — an ever-curious tiny mouse with abnormally large ears, named him after the French word for despair — is a voracious reader. He, unlike his kin, prefers to read the pages of books, as opposed to eating them. (The mice in the Kingdom of Dor have gone hungry for years in the absence of “scaps,” leaving them to make do with parchment.)

One day whilst lurking in the castle’s library, Despereaux comes across a knightly telling, instilling in him want to serve the kingdom’s human princess, Princess Pea (Yasmeen Sulieman). But, when Despereaux finally manages to approach (and speak!) to her, he’s sentenced to die a merciless death: to be consumed in pitch-black darkness by rats. 


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Before his fate appears sealed, a “good” doer with his own manipulating intentions — Chiaroscuro (John Rapson) jumps in and promises to save him. And, true to his word, he does…but soon turns the table on our elephant-eared protagonist. After an array of melodies knife-wielding — both rodents end up losing their tails, Despearux’s by the hand of a chef, Chicasours, nicknamed Roscuro, by none other than Despereaux himself — family drama, heartfelt redemption, and a blissful, peaceful ending.

Though like others in our company, we believe the play’s medley of phenomenal tunes felt a bit rushed–not made better by the at times clumsy transitions between songs–it’s a feel-good, phenomenally crafted theater production we’d highly recommend. And, yes: for the whole family, young and old alike.

// The Tale of Despereaux is playing at Berkeley Rep’s Roda Theatre (2015 Addison Street) now, through January 5, 2020; Tickets ($40-$100) and more information are available at berkeleyrep.org; photography courtesy of Berkeley Rep’s.


Curtain Call: The Tales of Desperaux is a Family-Friendly Affair With Cross-Generational Appeal
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