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'Once Upon a Mattress' at St. Paul

Cary Ashby • Feb 25, 2019 at 10:00 AM

Montserrat Carrillo plays an admittedly “evil character,” the Queen, in the St. Paul High School production of “Once Upon a Mattress.”

But even an antagonist often has a soft spot in their heart for another character. Up to a point.

“She wants the best for her son. She doesn’t want her son to get married because she sees him as a little boy,” said Carrillo, the daughter of Francisco and Patricia. “Not everybody is allowed to be married until he’s married. … That’s the marriage law.”

St. Paul students will perform “Once Upon a Mattress” at 7 p.m. Feb. 28 and March 1 and again at 2:30 p.m. March 3 in the Joan C. Camp Auditorium at the St. Paul Convocation Center. There are about 35 cast members, from seventh-graders through seniors.

“They are working together really well,” director Theresa Barcus said, noting the students are excelling at things outside of their comfort zone, such as playing a different gender or “being more physical in their acting.”

“It’s a comedy and we haven’t done a comedy in a couple years. I think (the characters) took a situation and found a solution for their friend, Winnifred, whom they like very much. They wanted to keep her in the kingdom, and together with humor and ingenuity, came up with a plan to keep her there and I think that’s very much the same way the students would react in real life,” she said. “I think that message speaks to people. I think they’ll enjoy some of the special effects that we have.”

Doing comedy isn’t difficult “for this group of kids,” the director added.

Senior Maddie Hipp is the stage manager. The daughter of Dan and Denise is responsible for making sure the set pieces and props are in the appropriate places on stage. Hipp said it’s helped her stay organized, work well with others and manage her time.

The stage crew built and painted the sets.

“I have a lot of people helping me,” Hipp said. “The mountains are from ‘The Sound of Music.’ The staircase is from ‘My Fair Lady.’ … When we can reuse stuff, it really helps; it moves things along.”

“Once Upon a Mattress” is based on the fairy tale “The Princess and the Pea.” Carrillo said if Winnifred (senior Cortney Slaven) can feel the pea under a large pile of mattresses, “she’s a true princess.”

Barcus, in her fourth year directing, said she chose the musical because “it was a favorite of Mr. and Mrs. Clark’s and I thought we had some good talent for it.” Chris Clark is the music director and his wife Tammy handles the choreagraphy. The husband and wife also teach at St. Paul.

“It’s something we haven’t done around here in a while,” Barcus said.

Just as “Once Upon a Mattress” is the first time Carrillo is playing an evil character, this is the first time Slaven has been cast in a lead role.

Slaven, the daughter of Ben and Cassandra Dennis, of Huron, has been performing in plays and musicals since the seventh grade, which includes performances with the Bellevue Society for the Arts. She described Winnifred as a physically strong “girl from the rough side of the tracks.”

“In this case, she’s from the swamp,” Slaven added. “My character has to play dumb a little bit.”

Dauntless (senior Ben Kowalski) teaches Winnifred the history of the kingdom — or attempts to.

“It’s clear my character is not catching on at all. Every time I ask a question, he continues reading,” Slaven said.

She and Kowalski were co-attorneys during the recent mock trial competition. The pair earned awards for their work and were part of the team which advanced to the district and regional levels. 

“It’s easier to act with him because I know him so well,” Slaven said. “We have banter back and forth; we ham it up with that. …  He always has my back and I’ve got his.”

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