But that I am forbid
To tell the secrets of my prison-house,
I could a tale unfold whose lightest word
Would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood,
Make thy two eyes, like stars, start from their spheres,
Thy knotty and combined locks to part
And each particular hair to stand on end,
Like quills upon the fretful porpentine.
Eyes Like Stars, by Lisa Mantchev
Beatrice Shakespeare Smith doesn’t necessarily live within a prison-house, and yet neither does she often leave the Theatre which she calls home. Within its walls, the players of every play ever written reside, and all seems happy, for these players were born to their parts and surely must love and appreciate them. Bertie loves the Theatre and its players with all her heart; it is all she has ever known, though as any young girl will, Bertie dreams. So, too, do some of the players dream, of escaping the Theatre and exploring the world beyond.
The Compleat Works of the Stage prevents this from being possible; the old book contains every play ever written, and thus, the beginning of every player within the Theatre. As the pages are bound into the book, so too are the players bound to the Theatre. Ariel, a spirit of the air and Bertie’s One True Weakness, believes that when a player’s entrance page is taken from the book, the player may escape the Theatre; he believes, too, Bertie has come to free them all.
Young Bertie has problems beyond the wants of the seductive Ariel. She’s been given a task of her own: prove her worth to the Theatre, or get out because she is full of mischief and trouble-making. Out? The Theatre is all she loves and the only place she wants to be. Backed by a quartet of fairies–Cobweb, Moth, Mustardseed, and Peaseblossom–Bertie sets out to retell Shakespeare’s Hamlet, set this time in Egypt. The players are horrified, but little does everyone know that nothing will go as planned and in attempting to prove her worth, Bertie will discover some of what she’s always dreamed: who she is, who her mother is, and maybe even the name of her One True Love.
Pirates, cake, costumes, romance, disaster-prone fairies, sea witches, mysteries, and histories; Mantchev’s debut novel has a little bit of everything–as you might expect to find in a theater. Bertie’s tale is captivating and charming, and my only complaint is that I didn’t want the curtain to fall when it did. The Theatre Illuminata is filled with stories yet to be told; Perchance to Dream is Act 2 (May 2010), and I can’t wait for the curtain to rise.
–E. Catherine Tobler