Monday, April 4, 2016

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane—Oregon Children’s Theatre—downtown Portland

The Beauty of Being

This delightful book of the same name by Kate DiCamillo is adapted for the stage by Dwayne Hartford and directed by Marcella Crowson.  It is playing at the Winningstad Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway, through April 24th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-228-9571.

This wonderful tale has much in common with Pinocchio, The Wizard of Oz, Peter Pan, The Velveteen Rabbit, et. al.  All those magical stories have, in part, a similar theme, about the journey of growing…into an adult, reality, acceptance and/or being loved and loving.  “Love is all there is…” as the song goes, but getting to that very special stage of Being is the tricky part.  For, in love, there is joy, but pain, also…in discovery, there is wonder, but it means leaving something behind, too.  Growing means evolving and, in evolving, we change.

Dorothy goes over the rainbow to discover what she was looking for was really in her own backyard all the time.  But she had to go over the rainbow, make the journey, in order to accept that.  Pinocchio had some maturing to do, and mistakes to make, before he could become a real boy, and so, again, a journey for him through dark shadows.    Edward, the rabbit, is so full of himself that he has no room for Love.  But the journey he makes will test this empty resolve and will open up a whole new world of better possibilities.  And so must we all…take journeys through dark forests, over treacherous mountains and stormy seas, enduring stifling deserts, to break through to discover our True Nature.

Edward Tulane (James Luster) is, in reality, a porcelain rabbit.  He comes into the world expecting everyone to love him because he is dressed in the best of finery and he is very handsome, everyone says so and he must, of course, agree.  Pellegrina (Emily June Newton), who has purchased him for her grand-daughter, Abilene (Emma Bridges), is from the best of families, and so he imagines he must be royalty.  And his sole purpose in life, besides being admired, is to gaze out the window for endless hours and imagine a world beyond.

But a ship journey will change all that in an instant.  He falls overboard, is eventually rescued by a seaman, Lawrence, and brought home to his wife, Nellie (Newton, again), who has lost a daughter and so assume Edward is a girl and dons him in dresses!  And so his journey of discovery begins, in a big way.  He eventually will become a companion of a Hobo and his dog, Lucy (Bridges, again), riding the rails and listening to the tales of woe from fellow travelers, absorbing their tears into his stubborn heart and beginning to feel for the first time.  He also discovers the endless array of stars and what a big world it really is and he, perhaps, only a pebble in comparison.

He encounters a very sick girl, Sarah Ruth (again, Bridges), who he brings much comfort to.  And so his heart opens wider, to let in the Joy of Giving, as well as the Pain of Loss.  His awareness grows over twenty years until a stroke of Fate, not unlike the Blue Fairy or Glinda, the Good, thrusts him…oops, but that would be telling, wouldn’t it?  Guess you’ll just have to see it, but know that I had a tear or two in my eye by the end and so did my frequent, play-going companion, Deanna (“growing” herself into a amazing, musical-theatre company creator), as she confided that this is probably her favorite play she has seen with me to date.

There are two other actors that play the other male characters, Josh Edward and Conor Eifler, but the character names were not listed in the program and they are similar in look onstage, so I don’t know who played which.  But they were both very convincing, as were Bridges, Newton and Luster.  With just a prop or costume piece, and a walk or voice change, these four actors played a variety of roles and very believably, too.  And Crowson has done a wonderful job of staging it, keeping it simple and letting the words and actors become the story.  Well done by all.

As you may have noted from previous reviews I’ve written, I love this black-box, storytelling style of theatre.  It enables one’s imagination to participate in the relating of the tale.  And since we all have different ways of seeing things, then it becomes a very personal story and so we may become one with it.  Also, all “children’s” tales often have some gentle but important message to impart.  And the message is usually universal, can be understood by anyone across the globe, and translatable to the child in all of us, however buried or distant they may seem.  Love is based, not on how much you take, but by how much you give.  Journey!  Discover!  Be!

I recommend this show.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

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