Composed by Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones in the 1960’s : “The Fantasticks” is a coy, merciful dialectic between cynicism and romance, wrapped in nostalgia. “Try to remember…” the first song invites us…..“when no one wept, except the willow.” At the center of this fable, that feels curiously modern, even today, are Luisa and Matt. Even though the terminology may have changed, adolescents still embrace love and the electrifying of the senses as a kind of innocuous madness, as the world unfolds before them, and they are impervious to harm. Their fathers have built a wall between their yards and forbade them to have any contact, thus making them irresistible to one another. To resolve the fabricated feud, the dads hire the dashing narrator: El Gallo, also The Aging Actor (glory days still fresh in his mind) and his assistant, Mortimer, to stage an abduction that Matt will thwart.
The tone of The Fantasticks is a curious combination, light but vaguely grim. Yearning for innocence but convinced it cannot withstand the blizzard of human experience. The songs are sometimes playful, sometimes so brimming with untainted attraction it hurts to hear them (in a good way) sometimes petulant or disillusioned. One marvels at how Schmidt and Jones can take us on such a long odyssey, considering the simplicity of the premise. They provide us with rhyming relationships, the two fathers who, for the most part, get along just fine, dancing together as if they did it all the time, and The (decrepit) Aging Actor and Mortimer. Appropriately the fathers seem to get along just fine, because they have relinquished youth’s illusions, while the elderly thespian (who carries clippings of past triumphs) seems comical and pathetic.
It was cunning and inspired indeed, to cast Dennis Wees as Matt, with his weary, cherubic features and Natalie Coca as Luisa, with eyes like glistening onyx that might as easily belong to a princess or a Bacchante. Bradley Campbell and Jackie Kemp have great chemistry as the two pragmatic, yet insouciant fathers, and Terry Vandivort utterly flawless as the elder performer who evokes theatrical enchantment with mastery and grace. David Lugo’s El Gallo is affable and sounds just like late film director : John Huston. I was thinking as I watched how dated The Fantasticks felt, with its nod to circus milieu, its quirky diction and its wit like a constant nudge to the ribs. Then I had two epiphanies. 1. Bruce Coleman (the director) has a genius for communicating the power of the classics and 2. The more the world changes, the better The Fantasticks works.
Theatre 3 presents The Fantasticks, playing December 3rd-27th, 2015. 2800 Routh Street, Suite 168, Dallas, Texas 75201. 214-871-3300.www.theatre3dallas.com.