Strumply Peter: The Joy of Bad Behavior

A sturdy working definition of adulthood: Getting on with the business of doing things that one doesn’t particularly want to do. Of course most children would describe a similar plight, what with the tooth brushing, the vegetable eating, the going to bed on time. It’s almost as though there’s no wicked fun to be had anywhere.

Not so in Michael Sommers’s Strumply Peter, billed as a “toy opera” and offering a thoroughly subversive experience ostensibly for children but truly enjoyable for anyone in need of an extended meditation on naughtiness, and the general necessity of it.

In the intimate confines of Open Eye Figure Theatre, the show represents a working definition of a small-scale original gem, combining music, puppetry, and non-linear storytelling to deliver 19th-century cautionary tales for children in an absolutely weird stew that meanders amiably toward a welcome conclusion—that obedience and being good girls and boys isn’t really all they’re cracked up to be.

The creation plays out with Noah Sommers Haas as the eerily energetic titular creature, arriving like an Old World fever dream with an ostensible mission of making sure that children are behaving themselves, a journey that plays out with three other actors including Tara Loeper’s lachrymose Crybaby, whose eyes keep falling from their sockets, and a jaunty score by Eric Jensen that propels vignettes including one in which a little boy refusing his soup returns in increasingly skinny form until he’s literally thin as spaghetti.

All of this is strange enough to grant children credit for being able to absorb the spiky and non-sanded edges of bygone tales, along with a sure hand that keeps things in the realm of the excitedly imaginative and not truly frightening. Sommers, one of our great originals, keeps exploring and finding ways to express his Picaresque sensibility and inclusive spirit with unequalled craft and invention.

The show has been extended an additional week, playing through March 15—a perfectly unexpected experience for children, for the aged, for generally all the ill-behaved among us.