Actually, I never really liked the beloved folk tale The Little Red Hen; although I knew that the other animals were irresponsible and lazy, I didn’t believe that their shortcomings should result in their being starved to death by the responsible, hardworking, vindictive chicken, who I found to be self-righteous and lacking in empathy. Well, a delightful production from Virginia Repertory Theatre retelling that fable and now being presented virtually by Darke County Center for the Arts totally fixes that problem.
Children will be enthralled and adults charmed by this show, from the musical’s opening line—“Do you want to hear a story?”— to the classic conclusion — “And everyone lived happily ever after.” The stated mission of Virginia Rep is to entertain, challenge, and uplift through the power of live theater; the irrefutable fact that their adorable production of this simple oft-told story can actually fulfill that lofty rhetoric provides convincing evidence of their commitment to achieving that goal.
I first noticed the shift in the story arc during the initial musical number wherein, as expected, all of the farm animals except, of course, Hen repeatedly state “Not I,”; but they also unexpectedly sing the foreshadowing line “Together we cannot fail.” The story then continues mostly as anticipated but with captivating little quirks. Rebuffed at every turn as she seeks help to plant the seeds, tend the crop, harvest the wheat, grind the flour, and bake the bread, Hen announces “A hen’s gotta do what a hen’s gotta do,” launches into a classic country anthem a la Loretta Lynn in which she repeats the mantra “I’m a hard-workin’ little red hen,” and then perseveres to demonstrate the value of hard work and personal initiative.
However, during this narrative, Hen’s kindness moves the foxy Fox to renounce his natural predatory instincts and become a vegetarian, and the barnyard animals are moved to regret not offering their help and friendship to the show’s heroine. They vow to “Cry till there are riverbeds on our faces” if their belated friendly overtures are rejected by the exhausted Hen; her spunky spirits are revived and friendship blooms, culminating in the happy ending. Everyone shares the freshly baked bread before all the animals earnestly sing the finale — “We hope one day to meet again and spin you another yarn. See you all another day. Yeehaw!”
Youngsters will probably miss the subtle humor and groan-inducing puns sprinkled throughout the script that will keep adults intrigued, but they will be able to identify with the story’s themes promoting the values of responsible behavior and committed effort, as well as the added motivation for working together to achieve a common goal that benefits all concerned. The kids will know that they are currently having a really good time enjoying talented actors happily sharing an old fable in a new and entertaining fashion; however, the values communicated will resonate into the future, perhaps helping create a better society in unexpected ways.
The Little Red Hen is being made available to the public at no charge as a thank you to the community for their ongoing support of Darke County Center for the Arts during the pandemic-induced hiatus for live productions; to access the show, go to DCCA’s Website www.darkecountyarts.org or email DCCA at [email protected] for links and access codes. Previous Family Theatre Series presentations, Virginia Rep On Tour’s productions of Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad and Jack and the Beanstalk, also remain available for streaming through June 30. For more information, call DCCA at 937-547-0908.