“The Tale of Despereaux” at the Berkeley Rep

“The Tale of Despereaux” at Berkeley Rep.

Carol Benet

With the goal of attracting  families, children and adults, to the theater this holiday season, The Berkeley Rep. brings to the stage an adaptation of the novel “The Tale of Despereaux”.  It was written by Kate DiCamillo in 2003 and garnered a Newbery Medal, the highest honor for an 

American book of literature for children. It was made into a movie as well.

The renowned PigPen Theatre presents a lively musical production that tells the story of a mouse, Despereaux (Dorcas Leung), pitted agains a rat Roscuro (John Rapson) and a slew of other characters in the palace where the two of them frighten the inhabitants.  The rat is so scary that the queen Rosemary (Betsy Morgan) dies of fright.  It is the librarian (Ryan Melia) who tells the story as well as play the violin from time to time joining the other members of the on stage band that plays several instruments throughout.  

Roscuro, short for “Chiascuro”, lives up to his name borrowed from an art term signifying a technique in painting creating light and dark.  And herein lies the whole story.  What seems light or dark is really not all one or the other in the  long run.  Little mouse puppets tell the story at times as they are held by the actors.  Sometimes they make shadows as their silhouettes appear on a screen as does other information telling us where we are in the story.

The PigPen company originated with seven drama students at Carnegie Mellon University in 2007 who formed a performance troupe.  Their combined imaginations pulled “things lying around their dorm rooms” to be sets, they created shows, they travelled to New York and beyond and eventually to the Globe Theatre in London where “Despereaux” premiered.  And now they bring this amusingly brilliant show to the Berkeley Rep.

There is a moral in this story and that is the change from a “desperate character” as the mouse’s name suggests, to a brave, confident and helpful one.  His original desire to be a Knight (with echoes of “Don Quixote”) changes to the acceptance who he is, how he loves and forgives others, especially Roscuro who does not stay in the shadows as a representation of evil.

Children get the nuances in the story and everyone in the audience is amused by the shenanigans  on stage.  Marc Bruni with PigPen directed the work and a host of talented people contributed sets (Jason Sherwood), costumes (Anita Yavich), lighting (Donald Holder), sound (Nevin Steinberg, shadow sequences and puppetry design (Lydia Fine and Nick Lehane), choreography (Jennifer Jancuska) and music direction (Christopher Jahnke).  

“The Tale of Despereaux” at Berkeley Rep. runs through the holiday season to January 5, 2020.  Tickets from 510 647 2949 or berkeleyrep.org. 

About the Author

Carol BenetCarol Benet received her Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from the University of California, Berkeley, where she won an Outstanding Teaching Award. She also received a B.A. in English and an M.A. in French Language and Literature from the University of Michigan. Her teaching assignments have been at UC Berkeley, UC Berkeley Extension, Dominican University and Washington State University. Currently she holds literature discussion groups in Marin County and San Francisco and is a critic of the arts for The Ark Newspaper and a contributor to ARTSSF.com and ForAllEvents.com.View all posts by Carol Benet →