Rae Takei as Mister Sister. Photo: Ryan Alexander McDonald

Katie Voravong. Photo by Ryan Alexander McDonald.Carousel Theatre for Young People, Vancouver International Children’s Festival, and Zee Zee Theatre
The Papa Penguin Play by Dave Deveau

When & Where May15 - June 2, 2024, various dates and times | Waterfront Theatre, Granville Island, Vancouver

Director Cameron Mackenzie, Lighting Design Victoria Bell Set Design Kimira Reddy Puppet Design Stephanie Elgersma Properties Monica Emme Sound Design MJ Coomber Stage Manager Taylor Mackinnon

Cast Hedgie Katie Voravong, Mister Sister Rae Takei Peaches Kosta Lemermeyer Izzy Jeffrey Follis

Reviewer Elizabeth Paterson

Some time ago in a New York zoo, two penguins, Roy and Silo, built a nest together and tried to hatch a chick. When the zookeepers realized that this pair were both male, they gave them a fertilized egg to brood. It hatched and the two same-sex penguins successfully reared their chick. Taking this story as their starting point and throwing in a whole lot of their personal lives, Dave Deveau (author) and Cameron Mackenzie (director) have hatched a new and utterly original play, not so much about penguins, as about creating a family. .

Hedgie (Katie Voravong), the penguin chick is about to have her first birthday party, but where are her parents Papa and Dad? She confides in Mister Sister (Rae Takei), at once the zookeeper, narrator, cake-maker, magician, dancer and MC extraordinaire. They advise patience and swimming. While Hedgie is being patient, Mister Sister introduces Peaches (Kosta Lemermeyer) and Izzy (Jeffrey Follis), Hedgie’s Dads, and tells the story of life before Hedgie in a series of flashbacks.

If you are a penguin in a zoo in New York, you will do a show; in this case, Peaches and Izzy being who they are, it will be a drag show, full of energy and glitz and not a little sexual titillation. Frantic life backstage and glamorous life on stage are shown in all their glory. In a comic sequence of accelerating scenes Peaches and Izzy choose their costumes, do their show, go backstage, again and again and again until they burn-out. They need a new project – a baby.

Reverting to biological penguin behaviour, they gather rocks to make a nest and search for an egg. As with their originals in New York, the rock they carefully keep warm doesn’t hatch. However, as we know from the start, an egg will hatch. The infant Hedgie grows and learns to walk and talk via puppet penguins (by puppet designer Stephanie Elgersma), of increasing size and the two dads enact the brilliant, exhausting stages of parenthood.

The writing is extraordinarily good: confident and unpretentious. Satisfying rhymes slip in and out of conversations, allusions glide by. And the play is never condescending. The cast is uniformly excellent, especially their speech. Every word can be heard. Rae Takei is a versatile, affectionate Mister Sister who keeps the play zipping along with inimitable style, and Katie Voravong is a sweet Hedgie. Kosta Lemermeyer charms as Peaches, Jeffrey Follis is an elegant Izzy. Together they are very funny. Skillful performers as drag artists, Peaches and Izzy are wonderfully warm and tender as the penguin fathers.

The costumes were a visual delight from Mister Sister’s Stetson and madly colourful garb to the severe black and white penguin overalls supported by scarlet stockings worn by the dads. Fabulous footwear added to the fun.

The cool, minimalist icesheet strewn with rocks by designer Kimira Reddy created a scene where anything can happen. I was less convinced by the set on the reverse, a lavishly busy back-stage dressing-room, not used to the full. Both sides of the revolve were aptly lit by Victoria Bell.

This is superior children’s entertainment. Some scenes might go over their heads (possibly raising a few parental eyebrows) but it is full of warmth and heart and joy. You need a little magic to make a family. Find it here.

© 2024 Elizabeth Paterson