A comics perspective
As a child, she starred in her dad's syndicated strip. Today she shares her humor on stage.
In the comic strip from 1964, the tiny blond tot invites her father to see a show she's putting on. "It doesn't cost a thing," she says. "You just have to buy a glass of lemonade." Afterward, she confidently steps up to his chair. "That will be two dollars and fifty cents for the lemonade," she pipes.
Carol Triffle was a regular character in her parents' syndicated comic strip, "The Smith Family," which originated in the Globe and ran in the paper from 1951 to 1994. Now all grown up in her early 50s, Triffle is still putting on shows. Her Imago Theatre company brings the whimsical revue "FROGZ!" to the Cutler Majestic Theatre starting tomorrow.
Vibrantly colored frogs, menacing alligators, and a dancing paper bag are just a few of the figures animating "FROGZ!" Triffle, co-creator of the show, says she learned all about combining simple ideas with high-impact imagery as a child. With minimal brush strokes, her father, the artist George Smith, captured the adventures of his family of 11 children, turning the mundane into the amusing as the household moved from New York to California, then Oregon.
Triffle says it's hard to know how much her father influenced her. "I watched him drawing all the time," she says, "and I do a lot of storyboarding, but I don't draw nearly as well as him. Our show is simple like his drawings, but his strip had a much more philosophical bent ."
"FROGZ!" is a series of fast-paced vignettes featuring various creatures going through wonderfully inventive paces. Lizards, penguins, and even a larva perform acrobatics and play games in ways that open up the audience's imagination and delight both children and adults.
The show has become a staple in the Portland, Ore.-based company's repertoire. Created 25 years ago by Triffle and Imago cofounder Jerry Mouawad (whose production of "No Exit" was presented at the American Repertory Theatre last year), "FROGZ!" has appeared on Broadway and around the country and is updated as new pieces are developed. The Cutler Majestic version will be similar to the show that played at the Zero Arrow Theatre two years ago, but it includes the premiere of "Bows and Arrows," which features giant bows held by what Triffle describes as "Robin Hood-like ninjas on the hunt." The piece "ping-pongs back and forth between goofy and serious," she says.
"When we started putting together ideas for 'FROGZ!' we were trying to look at the world as if it were new," says Triffle. "When you start looking at the reality of frogs sitting on lily pads doing nothing, and then you add a little theatricality, it becomes funny. Suddenly, lots of things you take for granted start to look funny."
George Smith, reached by phone at another daughter's home outside Seattle, says that same approach of finding the humor in everyday life inspired his comic strip. "So many things happen with children, the strip kind of writes itself," says Smith, whose wife, Virginia, edited the comic's story lines. "I was just putting words to music. When I started, there were no other family strips, and the Globe will always have a fond place in my heart because they were the first paper to pick up ' The Smith Family, ' and on the strength of that, we nailed quite a few papers. The Globe kept us in top-of-the-line cuisine for nearly 50 years."
Triffle grew up the seventh daughter in a family of 10 girls and one boy, and with all those potential performers, the house often became a three-ring circus, she says. Later Triffle studied dance and attended the acclaimed theater school of Jacques Lecoq in Paris. She co founded Imago Theatre with Mouawad in 1979.
At 87, her father may have slowed down a bit, but he still contributes to Triffle's artistic efforts. "The Cowboy," one of the segments in "FROGZ!," features Smith's line drawings displayed on a moviola that the cowboy wears instead of a head. The "cranky" (the term for the box on the cowboy's head) "gave us the opportunity to tell the cowboy's whole life story, his trip through the desert, his adventures here and there, all in his head," says Triffle. "My dad's line drawings were perfect because his work is very expressive and he makes ideas come to life in a two-dimensional way."
Slightly quirky, a little serious, and definitely amusing, Smith's delightful perspective appears to have had more than a little influence on his daughter.
"We didn't have TV when I was a kid because my father didn't want it, so we had to entertain each other," she says, laughing. "I think I learned more about listening to an audience response and adjusting what works and what doesn't from having that built-in crowd watching me show off. Finding what's funny is about trial and error, but nothing's more honest or rewarding than kids' reactions to a piece."
FROGZ! is at the Cutler Majestic Theatre tomorrow through Sunday. Tickets: $25-$47. 800-233-3123, telecharge.com.