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The provenance of Perô (or The Mysteries of the Night), offers a hint about the show itself: an English translation of a Dutch play by Saskia Janse and Onny Huisink, (founding directors of Speeltheater Holland ), Perô is based on a French children’s book (Pierrot, ou Les Secrets de la Nuit by Michel Tournier), and retells a Commedia dell’ Arte story that takes place in Italy. Yep, it is a complex pedigree.

This complexity appears onstage, in the show’s story and action; layers of meaning, emotions, philosophy, and history tell a simple love story, which results in a sort of theatrical and intellectual pinball that is delightful.

The simple story: Perô the baker loves his friend, the laundress Colombina. She washes by day, he bakes by night. This difference is enough to convince Colombina there can be no romance between them. One day, the painter Paletino appears, sweeps Colombina off her feet, and they go on a holiday. Perô’s heart breaks and he stops baking. Paletino and Colombina turn out to be incompatible and she misses Perô. So, she goes home and they work out their differences.

The decorations that hang from this simple narrative line are sparkling, tour-de-force theater. The narrators, Sun (Corrina Lapid Munter, in her SCT debut) and Moon, (longtime SCT music director, Mark Rabe) are temporal taskmasters who add music and whimsy with a touch of petulance in support of their charges: Sun watches over Colombina while Moon is Perô’s companion. Munter and Rabe make acting, singing, and playing an instrument simultaneously appear effortless. The actors (Jennifer Sue Johnson and Matt Wolfe) are puppeteers for the three characters, Colombina, Perô, and Paletino, and confer about the characters in actor roles—the cumulative effect of which made me write in my notes, “id, ego, and superego, dancing a Virginia Reel.” And it works, elegantly.

The complexity was riveting, even for the youngest attendees (some of whom, in the post-performance Q & A were still working out which emotions the characters had portrayed). Jim Jewell, SCT marketing and PR manager, mentioned to me that that SCT tries not to “talk down” to children. That is certainly true of Perô and, again, it works.

The costumes and scenery are wonderful and reflect the show—elegance, whimsy, and simplicity braided together. One set piece in particular, in which Paletino and Colombina go for their holiday, offers some stunning set design. It arrives onstage as a plain black box and transforms, like a pop-up children’s book, to a pastoral scene, complete with sweet miniature puppets.

Perô is a tightly made show that recognizes and celebrates loose ends. It hints at eternal questions like, what is love? Where is home? What does happiness look like? And offers no pat answers. Like all great art, Perô encourages thought. It functions on many levels and cannot be tied up in a tidy package—nor should it be. That would omit so much of what the show is “about.” And, like all great art, it is best appreciated in the moment and for yourself.

Christine Johnson-Duell is a Seattle-area poet and mother of one, who writes frequently for
ParentMap about the arts.

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