Jon Ferguson’s latest physical-theater work, the love-fable My Favorite Kind of Pretty, takes place in a pretty, quirky pastel world inspired by the artwork of Minneapolis’s Jennifer Davis. Ferguson and his design collaborators—stage designer Erica Zaffarano, composer Pablo, and prop master Jim Hibbeler—recreate the way Davis unfolds her constantly surprising world in one small panel after another yet keeps a consistent overall feel. The bright clothes of the heroine–her fuchsia cable-knit bathrobe, her anklet socks—make her the perfect inhabitant for a miniature house with an even smaller white picket fence. A rainbow path leads to her door, and her closest friend is a pink songbird. But the cuteness has its ragged edge: a weather-balloon moon with a frowny side, a toothy monster-head out of a child’s picture book, a trio of rabbits with darling English accents who keep meeting horrible fates, and the songbird itself, which, when launched into “flight” by the heroine, simply lands with a thud on stage.
This milieu of sweetness and dark is matched by the onstage action, a mix of the metaphorical, the absurd, and the real. The hero gets jealous of the heroine’s previous relationship with the moon (it doesn’t help that the moon claims they slept together “five times a day”) and takes a toy train to get away, but his emotion is real enough. When he finally slays the green demon of his jealousy and brings its paper-bag head back to the heroine, she cries out, “You’re back! And you brought groceries!”
Ferguson’s characteristic directing style pays off handsomely here: the characters play to the house as well as to each other, reacting to stage props (wine glasses glued to a table for easier transportation, for example) with mild astonishment. But they are also completely, pathetically absorbed in their emotions (smiling beatifically during a love montage dotted with tissue paper hearts tossed by visible stagehands). Sara Richardson and Ferguson, as the hero and heroine, win the audience’s affection, but Jason Ballweber’s mercurial Fate steals the show with (among other things) his condor impersonation.
I wish Pretty had been showing around Valentine’s Day: The show seems made to give new life to that sticky sweet holiday. Somehow, Ferguson pulls off the trick of keeping us laughing at the characters without ever introducing contempt for them, with the wonderful result that Pretty plays like the love child of Monty Python, Jane Austen, and The Princess Bride. However, I would recommend Pretty not as a first date show but as a date-night show for couples, because its subject is not that pixie-stick rush of crush, but rather the stranger territory of long-term love.
One montage is a pitch-perfect encapsulation of marital tensions—their silliness as well as their tenacity. When the hero and heroine overcome their troubles and set sail on the roof of their little house, love-flag flying, you’ll want to overcome the argument about who does the dishes and kiss your spouse. And if the show ends with a completely unexpected baby arriving via USPS, it’s easy to forgive Ferguson for the non sequitur: by that time, his own new baby (with versatile performer Megan Odell) was sleeping soundly in the back row of the house.
Jon Ferguson’s My Favorite Kind of Pretty continues at the Southern Theater through March 9