Before there was Claire Underwood, the easy to despise First Lady who moved quickly up the political ladder to Vice President and eventually POTUS incarnate on television's House of Cards, actress Robin Wright portrayed the considerably sweeter Buttercup in The Princess Bride. Thirty years after its release, the fairy tale classic has launched legions of fans, many of whom can't stop quoting popular lines like "inconceivable" and "Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die."
And so it goes that after watching The Princess Bride for the umpteenth time, local playwright Elizabeth A.M. Keel had her eureka moment and knew this was how she would answer the challenge put forth during a 2015 lunch by Jennifer Decker, founder and artistic director of Mildred's Umbrella Theater Company.
"Jennifer asked, 'Why don't you write something for our company,'" says Keel. The result is Tooth & Tail, a new full-length play that's making its world premiere in a one-night-only reading this January. "It's a fantasy. There are moments of poignancy, humor, pirates and a princess. It's mean to be an adventurous evening."
It's also going to be a star-studded evening, with a couple of our "ones to watch" rising actors in the cast (Gabriel Regojo and Skyler Sinclair), along with theater world mainstays Sara Becker, Shelby Blocker, Brittny Bush, Jason Duga, Patricia Duran, Heidi Hinkel and Eleanor Kimbro.
Without giving too much away, it's about a princess who has been kidnapped by a pirate, and a mercenary who has been hired to rescue her. "Of course it’s a Mildred’s show so there are lots of strong ladies," says Keel. "It also explores female friendship. It can be hard as an adult; people fall in love, it can be difficult negotiating and maintaining a relationship."
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Tooth & Tail has been two years in the making, and audience members will be seeing the seventh draft during this reading. And that's as it should be because, as the character Miracle Max says in The Princess Bride, "You rush a miracle man, you get rotten miracles." Keel, whom we named one of our 100 Creatives in 2012, has more than a dozen scripts under her belt and is working on her Master's degree in theater studies at the University of Houston. After this reading, the next stop is to mount the production with all the bells, whistles, magical realism and stageworks inherent in this new fantasy.
"I'm still counting my lucky stars that we've got Jon Harvey — he directed The Drowning Girls. He's collaborating with us, with director Rob Kimbro," says Keel. "We're having a talk about, when this does become a script, what will set designers need." She says it's her goal to write a script that's basically catnip for theater people.
"I wanted to challenge myself as a playwright to write a Shakespearian farce." And after two years of drafts and rewrites, Keel is looking forward to this reading. "I'm ready for an audience to hear it."
The reading of Tooth & Tail is set for 7:30 p.m. January 8 at Studio 101, 1824 Spring Street, 832-463-0409, mildredsumbrella.com. Free, but donations are encouraged.