Theatre IV Makes A Rabbit Real
Although a children’s story, Margery Williams’ narrative embeds deep thematic elements in her tale “The Velveteen Rabbit.” Where other theaters might have left this piece overly sweet for holiday commercial appeal, Theatre IV’s – The Children’s Theater of Virginia – recent offering brings to the Richmond stage a dynamic children’s fable that youthful patrons and their mature chaperones won’t want to miss. Director Steve Perigard finds his own unique way to execute a narrative effusive in both nursery charm and psychological catharsis in the intimacy of the Barksdale Theatre.
The 50-minute children’s play successfully animates Burgess Clark’s adaptation of Margery Williams’ children classic of the same title. Positioned after the trauma of World War I, the original children’s narrative weaves the story of a young boy (played wonderfully by SPARC’s Xavier Barrett) and the heartfelt journey of his stuffed rabbit (puppeteered by the adroit RTCC award recipient David Janeski) to become real. Metaphorically, however, the narrative of the stuffed rabbit is an allegory to the natural, yet often painful, transformation from childhood innocence to adulthood reality.
Despite the label of “children’s theater,” Richmond adaptor Perigard is fit to examine the following question: When does a child inwardly and outwardly become “really” human? While the primary audience of schoolyard enthusiasts might not discern this psychological interrogation, this production’s poignant resolution – through an ingenious transformation scene that will bewitch all ages – is ripe to bring the mature audience to tears (and this perceptible effect happens still after having been on the Barksdale stage for more than half its run).
Perigard and his artistic team never loose sight of this insightfulness, while at the same time their narrative successfully executes childhood delight and nostalgia. Perigard’s use of two narrators instead of one keeps the piece dialogic and engaging for the youthful audience (K Strong and Gordon Bass are effortless in their oratory synchrony) and here we have a cast that understands the subtleties of a young boy’s imagination. AnnaMarie Rossi is firm as she is fair as Nana and impressive as the Wooden Lion, and the roles of the Tin Soldier and Model Boat – along with a company of puppet rabbits and butterflies – are put in the dexterous hands of Robin Harris-Jones and Ronnie Brown, respectfully.
Technically, puppeteer Terry Snyder’s velveteen rabbit, assortment of bedroom toys and “real” rabbits and Nursery Magic Fairy propel the magical realism of the story and each puppet’s playful character keeps the show alive for the adolescent attention span. Brian C. Barker’s scenic design speaks to the interplay of realistic and fantastical elements that define childhood by merging the boy’s bedroom with the garden playground: This scenic schema speaks to Williams’ conceit that transformation occurs as a natural process within the self and outside to others. Also, the vivid adventures the young boy and his stuffed rabbit embark on are aided by surprising scenic elements that make them even more venturesome.
In the shrewd hands of Kenny Mullens, the lighting design brings out the dyad of childhood emotions of fear and euphoria during the stuffed rabbit’s quest, and costume designers Sue Griffin and Lynne West are keenly aware of the intricacies of 1920s fashion. Lastly, the use of Brian Harris’s original music underscores the play’s final leap from the storybook to the stage.
Unsurprisingly, “The Velveteen Rabbit” is as intelligent as it is magically phenomenal. The artistry on stage at the Barksdale Theatre isn’t just children’s theater but is theater at its artistic apogee. This uncommon production, enchanted by Steve Perigard’s storytelling coupled with a spellbinding cast and technical mastery, heightens only what is already ubiquitous in story time circles. Any child’s stock stuffing needing additional padding would do well to add a family trip to this production this holiday season.
“The Velveteen Rabbit” runs through January 9, 2011 at the Barksdale Theatre. For tickets and show times, visit http://www.theatreivrichmond.org/. Photo by Greg Garner.
Matthew Miller is the former arts editor and chief theater critic for GAYRVA.com. A Chicago native, he holds a B.A. from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He currently resides in Richmond, VA and is a member of the Richmond Theatre Critics Circle. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow Matthew Miller on Twitter twitter.com/matthewkmiller
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