‘Rapunzel Alone’ — a Magical, Mythical Morality Play Not to be Missed…

By Ernest Kearney — It was both a pleasure and an honor to take my seat for the world premiere of Rapunzel Alone at the 24th Street Theatre; in association with the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts.

An honor because it marks the first full audience the 24th Street Theatre has held since 2019 and the start of the pandemic; a pleasure because the production of Mike Kenny’s play is a celebration of everything that is magical about the theatrical experience.

Set during the Second World War, the play commences with the first of a series of evacuations that would eventually relocate over 673,000 children from London, and other industrial centers, to the safety of rural foster families far away from the danger of the persistent German bombings.

Young Lettie (Tara Alise Cox) is being sent to live on a distant isolated farm with the severe Miss Pierce (Marie-Françoise Theodore) who is viewed as an oddity by the community wherein she resides, for her dark skin as well as her solitary ways.

It is even whispered, among the local children, that she may be a witch.

And so Playwright Kenny and Director Debbie Devine (and Co-Director Jesus Castaños-Chima) work their sorcery, spinning a tale that hints at the “maiden-in-the-tower” motif —so common in those oft-told fairy tales of childhood—while invoking a far more powerful spirit.

The efficacy of the spell conjured on 24th Street’s stage is a blending of the historical and mythical, simplicity and sincerity and the results are utterly bewitching.

Like Kenny’s Walking the Tightrope (also produced by 24th Street Theatre to a well-deserved galaxy of acclaim), Rapunzel Alone examines the tragic realities which imprison life through the prism of a child’s viewpoint.

There are echoes within Rapunzel Alone harkening back to the German folk tale; there is the young prince in Conrad (William Leon), the lad who delivers the mail to the farmhouse, there are Lettie’s long braids which must be cut due to an infestation of head lice, there is even a cantankerous goose (Gertrude by puppeteer Matt Curtin).

But while the show is one which children would thoroughly enjoy, do not make the mistake of considering it a “children’s show.”

From Bruno Bettelheim’s groundbreaking work The Uses of Enchantment, The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales to Richard Dawkins’ recent articles, the objective of these stories have been assumed to assist a child in acclimating to the mundane terrors of life that await them in adulthood.

Kenny appears to argue another course; that the importance of these stories is, not for the young to overcome their childhood fears but, for the adults to remember and embrace their child-like wonder.

Thus in Rapunzel Alone, the question is open as to who the “maiden in the tower” actually is.

Puppetry and theatre each have their origins deep in humanity’s prehistory, and there are presently researchers arguing that fairy tales are far older than once believed, with some dating back to the Bronze Age.

Their purpose, like the purpose of all art, and that family’s red-headed stepchild, religion is to create clarity from confusion. Kenny’s craft is in his effort to clarify that clarity.

In Rapunzel Alone we see that shutting a child off from the world outside when the night skies of that world are full of the droning engines of Nazi bombers is not the act of an “evil witch.”
In bringing Rapunzel Alone to Los Angeles audiences, Producers Jay McAdams and Jennie McInnis gathered together the same artists who contributed to making Walking the Tightrope one of the most memorable theatre productions of the last decade. It is a “Dream Team.”

The artistry of the staging enhances the innovations as the innovations do the artistry, creating a host of scenes from the rooftop of a London flat to a train travelling from Victoria station to a rural sky filled with cawing crows or the roars of Luftwaffe’s Heinkels and Jungers.

Devine and Castaños-Chima have conducted the crafts of Leah Abazari (visual artist), Matthew G. Hill (visual designer), Jeff Gardner (sound designer), and Neil Wogensen (sound editor) masterfully, with Composer Bradley Brough providing original music to complete this enticing theatrical symphony.

Cox, Theodore and Leon are engaging and their talents all too evident in their performances, but it is Curtin and Gertrude who manage to nearly pocket the show and walk away with it.

It is to be regretted that works Kenny is best known for in Britain —Three Wise Monkeys, The Railway Children and others— have not found productions in Los Angeles, because his pieces done in concert with the 24th Street Theatre have always resulted in audience pleasers of the first order.

If you Google Mike Kenny, who is the recorded narrator of Rapunzel Alone, you’ll find numerous entries praising him as “one of England’s leading writers specializing in young people’s theatre.”

Reading that statement back when I was reviewing Walking the Tightrope immediately called to mind an observation by Russian Writer Maxim Gorky:

“You must write for children in the same way you do for adults – only better.”

Kenny does that.

And the 24th Street Theatre follows suit: They produce theatre – only better. Much, much better.


(NOTE: In Featured Image – Puppeteer Matt Curtin, Gertrude the Goose and Tara Alise Cox (Photo by Cooper Bates)


Rapunzel Alone

Remaining Performances at The Wallis:
March 12 through March 19

The Wallis Annenberg Center for Performing Arts
9390 N Santa Monica Blvd.
Beverly Hills, CA 90210

For Tickets and Additional Information:

(213) 745-6516 or www.24thstreet.org


• Appropriate for ages 7 and up.
• Performances at 24th Street Theatre include Spanish supertitles.
• Proof of full vaccination (including booster shot if eligible) and government issued photo ID are required for admission for all patrons ages 5 and up.
• Patrons who are exempt from COVID-19 vaccinations must show a negative PCR test result within 48 hours or a verifiable Antigen test within 24 hours from your performance date.
• Masks, covering both the mouth and nose, are required throughout the performance; N95 or KN95 masks, or double masking with a surgical mask and fabric face-covering, strongly recommended.

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Written by

An award-winning L.A. playwright and rabble-rouser of note who has hoisted glasses with Orson Welles, been arrested on three continents and once beat up Charlie Manson. His first play, "Among the Vipers" was a semi-finalist in the Julie Harris Playwriting Competition and was featured in the Carnegie-Mellon Showcase of New Plays. It was produced at the NPT Theater in Ashland, Oregon and Los Angeles’ celebrated Odyssey Ensemble Theatre. His following play, “The Little Boy Who Loved Monsters” was produced at The Hollywood Actors Theater, where he earned praise from the Los Angeles Times for his “…inordinately creative writing.” The play went on to numerous other productions including Berlin’s The Black Theatre under the direction of Rainer Fassbinder who wrote in his program notes of Kearney, “He is a skilled playwright, but more importantly he is a dangerous one.” Ernest Kearney has worked as literary manager or as dramaturge for among others The Hudson Theater Guild, Nova Diem and the Odyssey Ensemble Theatre, where he still serves on the play selection committee. He has been the recipient of two Dramalogue Awards and a finalist or semi-finalist, three times, in the Julie Harris Playwriting Competition. His work has been performed by Michael Dunn, Sandra Tsing Loh, Jack Colvin and Billy Bob Thornton, and to date, either as playwright or director, he has upwards of a hundred and thirty productions under his belt, including a few at the Bob Baker Marionette Theater as puppeteer. Kearney remains focused on his writing, as well as living happily ever after with his lovely wife Marlene. His stage reviews and social essays can be found at TheTVolution.com and workingauthor.com. Follow him on Facebook.

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