Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Philadelphia

The Prince and the Pauper
Quintessence Theatre Group
Review by Rebecca Rendell | Season Schedule

Emily Dale White and Meg Rumsey-Lasersohn
Photo by Shawn May
If underestimating young people is the cardinal sin of children's theater, it is also the most common. Real danger and moral ambiguity can be sacrificed on the altar of accessibility, and the result is predictably boring and painfully simplistic. Even a first grader needs a little suspense and something to think about. Josh Carpenter boldly goes in the opposite direction with his new adaption of Mark Twain's 1881 The Prince and the Pauper, faithfully retelling the complex story and explicitly raising questions a young person might find particularly challenging. What if no one recognizes me for who I truly am? Could anything convince me to turn on my family? Would getting to live my dreams be disappointing? The result is a genuinely enjoyable production that raises the bar for family-friendly theater in Philadelphia.

Even if you have never read the original novel, this story of mistaken identity will likely sound familiar. Poverty-stricken but relentlessly optimistic Tom Canty (Emily Dale White) has a chance run-in with his royal highness Prince Edward Tudor (Meg Rumsey-Lasersohn). Tom admires all the splendor surrounding the young prince, while Edward wishes he could experience Tom's freedom. After noticing how similar they look, Tom and Edward decide to exchange clothes. Soon, Edward is mistaken for Tom and barred from the castle. Both attempt to explain the mistake and claim their rightful identities, but convenient lies are easier to accept than complicated truths, and there is much work to be done before everything is set right.

Josh Carpenter imbues this play with a Shakespearean sound and sensibility that is remarkably well suited to Mark Twain's classic tale. When Portia's famous "quality of mercy" speech is inserted into the final scene, the transition is seamless. I initially worried the period English would be too difficult for some young people to understand, but the key plot elements are clear, thanks to Carpenter's excellent direction and a top notch cast.

White and Rumsey-Lasersohn use their substantial talents to create a pair of protagonists who are as flawed as they are relatable. White maintains a goofy vulnerability even as Tom grows into his new-found power, while Rumsey-Lasersohn projects entitled refinement despite Edward's increasingly dire circumstances. John Basiulis, Mattie Hawkinson, Tai Verley, and Steven Wright use a variety of clever costumes and props to perform nearly thirty additional roles. Basiulis is vicious as Tom's thieving father and utterly hilarious as a sleepy little cow. Hawkinson brings an unexpected depth to wise Lady Edith. Verley's depiction of Tom's loving but fearful mother is heartbreaking. Wright's shift from dying king to displaced noble is so complete it is possible to forget there is one man playing both roles.

The Prince and the Pauper is Quintessence Theatre Group's second foray into family-friendly theater, but let us hope it is not the last. There are few things as wonderful as sharing really good theater with your kids.

The Prince and the Pauper, through June 3rd, 2018, at the Sedgwick Theater, 7137 Germantown Ave., Mt. Airy, Philadelphia PA. To purchase tickets, visit or call 215.987.4450.

John Basiulis
Emily Dale White
Mattie Hawkinson
Meg Rumsey-Lasersohn
Tai Verley
Steven Wright

Adaptation and Direction: Josh Carpenter
Costume Design: Summer Lee Jack
Lighting Design: David Sexton
Sound Design: Max Silverman
Fight Direction: Sean Bradley