Little Lamb Can't Hold Back Matilda

Lamb Arts Regional Theatre:

Lamb Arts Regional Theatre
Sioux City, Iowa
Sunday, December 1, 2019
Future Performances:
Dec. 5-7 (7:30) & Dec. 8 (1:30

Little Lamb Can’t Hold Matilda Back

Early on in her eponymous musical (now playing at Lamb Arts Regional Theatre) Matilda sings, “Even if you’re little, you can do a lot.  You mustn’t let a little thing like little stop you.”  Lamb may be a little theatre in Little Ol’ Sioux City, but its big ambitions, big talent, and big, bold cast make Matilda a stage-filling spectacle.

Before I went to see Matilda (at the end of its third weekend), I didn’t know what to expect.  I didn’t know the story; I hadn’t read the book.  But as soon as I walked into the auditorium, the bright colors and whimsical stage dressings (i.e. lots and lots of books), had me expecting something magical, something otherworldly.  In the first act, Matilda’s abnormality is on clear display, but we don’t get the little tickle of the supernatural until the second.  Either way, you can’t look at the stage and not think fairytale. 

By that I don’t mean a Disney fairytale.  Think Grimm.  A special girl living with especially cruel parents (played by Ian Curtis and Onnastassia Behan).  Curtis and Behan manage to portray Mr. and Mrs. Wormwood as horribly hilarious without the actors themselves descending into petty self-indulgence.  These parents are funny (sadly), they are often the center of attention—always the centers of their own attention—but they are never distracting and their actors know well enough when to let go for the sake of the play. 

One thing Mr. Wormwood can’t let go of is his hat after one early prank by Alia Friis’s Matilda.  Friis, herself plenty little, has a big task which she steps up to fearlessly.  She’s conquered the dialogue, the accent, and the singing.  And perhaps most important of all, she’s convincingly naughty when she has to be, as the title of one of the first numbers suggests. 

Matilda never seems to shy away from sticking it to the grown-up world, but her teacher and foil Miss Honey (played by Jen Parra) learns a few lessons in courage from her student.  Together they battle the mighty schoolmistress Miss Agatha Trunchbull.  Donny Short’s Trunchbull—yes, that’s Mister Donny Short’s Trunchbull—is terrifying and mesmerizing.  And a little lopsided, too, so props to Mr. Short for staying on his feet.  What Trunchbull has in hammer-throwing and what Mr. Short has in comedic instincts is matched by Ms. Parra’s singing, which was my favorite of the performance.  And what Curtis, Behan, and Short offer in over-the-top hysterics, Travis Metzgar matches in an understated—but nonetheless hysterical—brother Wormwood. 

Let’s not forget that while the play is called Matilda, it’s an ensemble piece.  There are several large group numbers.  And the ensemble cast comes and goes with energy.  They’re never mere background, and they help the stage come to life with frequent, intricate set changes.  The only chink in the play’s armor might have been the separation evident between the adult cast as they sang alongside—and sometimes beyond—their younger peers.  But peers those young players are, because they went for it, and I expect to see plenty more of these excellent young actors. 

Matilda’s not all spectacle, and the plot took a surprising turn in a second act that included a giant chocolate cake, some phantom handwriting, and a handful of Russians.  But I don’t want to give too much away.  If you want to find out what happens, you’ll have to come find out for yourself.  The show continues for a fourth and final weekend with performances at Lamb Arts Regional Theatre on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday (December 5-8). 

As for Lamb, it won’t be staying little for long.  Check in on its progress toward moving into the old Sioux City Auditorium at 625 Douglas. 

Brendan Todt is a stay-at-home father who tries to take in and write about art in his free time. He hosts Take Whatever Beauty You Can Find, the podcast that talks to Siouxland artists about Siouxland art.