Review: 'Finn McCool' from Talespinner Children's Theatre

Finn McCool sounds like a very hip urban street name, until you jump on Wikipedia and find that it’s actually the way we Americans pronounce “Fionn mac Cumhail.” He was a mythical hunter-warrior in Irish mythology, and he’s the central figure in this play, adapted from those very myths by Christopher Johnston.

Turns out, there are a number of myths swirling around Mr. McCool, and they each have the potential to delight the kids who attend this Talespinner production. In one story, McCool (Christopher Walker) wants to catch the Salmon of Knowledge, a fish who became all knowing, and as he grapples with the fish he cuts his thumb on the hook. From that point on, whenever Finn needs a spark of smarts, he just sucks his thumb. This is the best news thumb-suckers have had for a long, long time.

In another tale, the gigantic Finn is at home with his wife Oona (Margie Herwald Zitelli) and he impersonates a baby (yay, thumb-sucking!) to avoid the fearsome strongman Cucullin. And there are still more stories woven into this 70-minute production involving a Faerie Queen, a leprechaun, and other icons of the Irish culture.

With the use of puppets, masks and music, director Alison Garrigan once again creates a stage world where little imaginations can run and play. And the cast helps enormously with the fun. Sean Seibert serves as the guitar-strumming balladeer Arnie McBlarney, who introduces the McCool storyline, and Leah P. Smith and Devon Turchan play the synchronous brother and sister who take the mythical journey with the audience.

But it is John Busser, leaving no item of the scenery without a tooth mark, who creates much of the delight. He’s quite the fishy sight, bedecked in goggles as that intelligent salmon, and his Cucullin is a boffo beastly creation, lumbering about like an off-the-chain Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Adaptor Johnston amplifies the most understandable threads of these often complicated Irish folktales, so that kids can enjoy them. But it’s still hard to tell when one story begins and another starts. Maybe vaudeville title cards would help to separate the stories in shows such as this: “Finn McCool & the Salmon of Knowledge,” etc.

In any case, the Talespinner troupe once again demonstrates the explosive acting energy and clever staging invention they’ve become known for. And that’s a darn good thing.

Finn McCool
Through October 11 at Talespinner Children’s Theatre, Reinberger Auditorium, 5209 Detroit Avenue, 216-264-9680.

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Christine Howey

Christine Howey has been reviewing theater since 1997, first at Cleveland Free Times and then for other publications including City Pages in Minneapolis, MN and The Plain Dealer. Her blog, Rave and Pan, also features her play reviews. Christine is a former stage actor and director, primarily at Dobama Theatre...
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