Award-winning actress relishes Adventure Theatre's 'If You Give a Pig a Pancake'

Multiple Helen Hayes Award winner Holly Twyford, right, with Branda Locke, plays an oinker in "If You Give a Pig a Pancake."
Multiple Helen Hayes Award winner Holly Twyford, right, with Branda Locke, plays an oinker in "If You Give a Pig a Pancake." (Bruce Douglas)
By Lavanya Ramanathan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 2, 2010

Holly Twyford has played an astonishingly cruel girlfriend in Neil LaBute's heady play "The Shape of Things." She shined in her cliche-free portrayal of a simple-minded woman in Neil Simon's "Lost in Yonkers."

And on Friday night -- in an epic display of her renowned range -- the actress will take the stage as a singing, tap-dancing pig.

You read that right. The four-time Helen Hayes Award winner (whom Post critic Peter Marks described as knowing "how to hold the world of a play in her hands") is the star of Adventure Theatre's children's show "If You Give a Pig a Pancake."

It's an opportunity she's relishing both for the challenge and because it will finally allow her to perform for a very special audience member: her 3-year-old daughter, Helena.

"This would be the first thing she would be able to see me do," Twyford says of "Pig," her second children's show in a prolific Washington stage career that stretches back nearly two decades. Not only will Helena be there, but she has already sat in on rehearsals, and, sure enough, Twyford says, "she had notes."

Based on Laura Numeroff's children's book of the same name, "If You Give a Pig a Pancake" is the tale of a girl who feeds pancakes to a pig only to find that it inspires an extravagant wish list: first, syrup for the pancakes, then a bath to wash off the syrup, then bubble bath for the bath, and so on, until the pair have been all over town and back again.

To win the busy actress for the show, Adventure Theatre's producing artistic director, Michael J. Bobbitt, sent Twyford a copy of Numeroff's book and crayons and coloring pages for Helena. The fact that the actress is better known for Shakespeare than for Seuss didn't faze him at all.

"Children's theater has gotten really very good," Bobbitt says. "I've gotten to know a lot of theater artists, and I've found sometimes, all you have to do is ask." (It doesn't hurt that children come to performances with their parents, who are just as eager to be entertained as the kids, presenting a special challenge for actors.)

The actress agreed, joining Jerry Whiddon, who directed Twyford in "Yonkers" and who will also helm "If You Give a Pig a Pancake."

"The roles that I want to do and the roles that attract me are challenging and something that is going to scare me a little and be a risk for me," Twyford says. "I think that playing a singing, tap-dancing pig falls under that category."

To prepare for the role, Twyford, who had taken tap-dancing lessons as a child, insisted on beginning her dance practice a month before rehearsals even began. "I was surprised how much came back," she says.

Bobbitt, who choreographed the production's tap number, is a little more effusive about the actress's latent skill: "People are going to be impressed."

"It's a physical workout, that's for sure," Twyford says. "There are different challenges. It's a different audience -- it's an audience that is a little harder to please. You have got to make sure your energy is up there and that you switch it up a little more, so they stay with you."

If anyone is up for it, it's Twyford.

"She brings a masterful command of the craft," Bobbitt says. "It's unbelievable the kind of performance she's pulling off: It's wacky, wild. Holly brings craft . . . and most of all, boundless creativity."

"If You Give a Pig a Pancake" Recommended for ages 2-6. Adventure Theatre, Glen Echo Park, 7300 MacArthur Blvd., Glen Echo. 301-634-2270. Through Aug. 22. $15; $12 age 12 and younger; free for age 1 and younger.

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