An Adventure Tale: Tooth and Tail With Princesses, Dragons and Pirates at Mildred's Umbrella

Ready for adventure?
Ready for adventure? Photo by Gentle Bear Photography

It's like a Shakespearean forest play complete with princesses, dragons and pirates. Tooth and Tail by Elizabeth Keel is making its world premiere at Mildred's Umbrella with a focus on women in a grand adventure.

"I think there is a real beauty and delicacy to female friendships that is not as often explored as a traditional love story and an adventure quest,"  says actor/designer/playwright Keel. "I wanted to put a female friendship at the heart of a fantasy story."

Asked about what she was looking for in any of the actors she cast, Keel says: "There was a playfulness required. This isn't just a children's play but one for all ages. But there's an imagination element to it. Let's let ourselves descend to this story-around-the-campfire feeling. So I wanted a cast that could in one scene be a silly pirate and in the next be a really dangerous monster and kind of run the spectrum of silly to hero to villain to the real dangers of the world."

Someone who liked The Princess Bride or Ladyhawke will like this one, she says. "It's just an adventure for the heart."

The two-act, 100-minute play features costumes by UHD students working under the direction of professor Danielle Hodgins, who is also doing the set." The costumes are extremely colorful. That was my biggest request and she's delivering," Keel says. One student is sewing the flags of the kingdom as their class project, she says. (Kudos to UHD students Maria Garcia Salazar, Madison Huffman, Mechelle Brown and Alexis Aldaba for all the sewing work.)

"We start in the past. Sort of young and innocent," Keel says. "We grow up quickly when magic comes into our lives. It's not an Earthly country. It's a whole new continent and world. There will be a map in the program to help orient you. It matches the treasure map that's used on stage." This enables Keel to employ what she says is one of her favorite things to do — namely have the audience participate in the show.

Keel says she was first attracted to theater because of the sense of community, friendship and fellowship it engenders with cast and crew. She began writing plays in 2007 and this is her second full length show for Mildred's.

The graduate of Lee High School (now Wisdom High) and UH (twice) where she studied with Edward Albee and Lanford Wilson.  She began writing Tooth and Tail in 2015 when Mildred's Umbrella Artistic Director and founder Jennifer Decker invited her to write something for that theater company.

"I have eternal admiration for Jennifer Decker for keeping Mildred's Umbrella afloat," Keel says. "It's do-it-yourself theater and I love that it keeps theater accessible with pay-what-you-can ticketing and that we celebrate the work of women and female-centric stories."

Asked how she came up with the idea for Tooth and Tail, Keel says: "I wanted to challenge myself to write a Shakespearean forest play [with a bit of Barrie's Peter Pan thrown in]. I love the ensemble of the Merry Men in the forest, the Lost Boys running away and having this magical kingdom all to yourself and the way you ask the audience to use their imagination.

"But I wanted one that had a better balance of women,." she adds laughing. 

Keel was one of many playwriters, directors and actors who saw their work interrupted at the height of the pandemic. She did a reading in Decker's living room, a staged reading at Studio 101, with plans to openin full production the summer of 2020 which was, of course, postponed. They did a Zoom production which Keels calls "quite entertaining but not quite the same thing.

"So now it's finally going to get to live in 3-D., " she said. "I don’t think Houston has ever seen a show quite like it."

Thanks to all the starts and restarts over the years of the pandemic, Keel says she's cycled through three separate casts . The only person who's remained, besides Decker is Rob Kimbro, the director. Kimbro, in fact, has issued a helpful guide about what age audience should come and see it.

"Content: Playwright Elizabeth Keel has created a world that is vibrant and colorful, full of dragons and knights, princesses and monsters, joy and laughter. But also sorrow, death, betrayal and loss. There is violence – often swashbuckling and fun, but sometimes a bit more brutal. Characters, even sympathetic ones, do terrible things and face consequences. However, as one character says, “Everything will probably turn out mostly alright.”

"Language: Adventurers don’t always behave like they’re in polite society. There is profanity in the show – at a mild-PG level.

"Form: This is a full-length play. We’re expecting a run time of around 100 minutes, plus an intermission. Patrons of any age should be able to sit for up to an hour—laughing, gasping, perhaps wiping away a tear, but not disrupting the enjoyment of those around them."

Performances of Tooth and Tail are scheduled for May 4-13 at 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays at The Deluxe Theatre, 3303 Lyons. For more information, visit mildred'  Pay what you can
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