note: entire contents copyright 2015 by Sheila Barth
There’s something marvelous about actor Elbert Joseph in Wheelock Family Theatre’s production of Joseph Robinette’s stage adaptation of E.B. White’s book, “The Trumpet of the Swan”.
Directed by Shelley Bolman, Joseph is charming as Louis, the mute trumpet swan. He struts, waddles and glides like a swan. He flaps and spreads his wings (a silver cape), to “fly” across Mac Young’s fantastic, huge-leaf, playful pond-playground terrain, with its pathways, boulders, stone steps and slides. A huge slate blackboard rests atop the structure, with chalky-printed dialogue for hearing-impaired visitors to see.
Theatergoers probably are unaware Elbert Joseph is the idyllic, real-life personification of the story’s theme. After realizing that Louis is unlike his four sibling cygnets, his blowhard father, Cob (Jaime Carrillo), encourages him, saying, “Don’t be sad about this condition. The world is full of people who have overcome great challenges, many of them becoming superior individuals”. Joseph the actor and Louis the mute swan accomplish precisely that.
Joseph, who is deaf, uses American Sign Language (ASL) to communicate. From the time he was 12 years old, Joseph has successfully performed in several Wheelock, American Repertory Theater and Central Square Theatre productions. In this performance, his movement and joie de vivre are infectious. Theater personnel recommend the show for children 6+ years old, tweens, youth, teens and adults, but last Saturday afternoon, younger theatergoers enthusiastically giggled, clapped, and ooooohed in their seats. I’d wager they understood White’s fantasy perfectly, including Cob’s love for his mute son, driving him to crash-dive through the window of a Billings, Mont. music store, and “steal” a trumpet for Louis, so he’d have a voice, too. Louis is a fast learner, teaching himself to play the instrument well. He’s a feathery Louis Armstrong.
However, Cob is listed as a fugitive from justice, and must pay storeowner Mr. Watson (Cliff Odle) for the trumpet and damages to the store.
Thing is, everyone knows swans don’t have money, so Cob’s kindly paternal misdemeanor leads Louis on an extraordinary journey to Ontario, Montana, Boston, Philadelphia, and New Jersey, to earn enough money playing the trumpet to pay Cob’s debt. Portraying grown-up narrator Sam Beaver, (a human, not the animal), actor Danny Bolton leads us and this large, multi-age cast on a nostalgic trip through Louis and Sam’s longtime friendship. Bolton also portrays lesser roles, as camp director Mr. Brickle, a game warden and grain man.
Their lifetime journey starts with a flashback of 11-year-old Sam (Sebastian Wood) and his mother’s six-week getaway to their cabin in Ontario, where Sam finds the swan family and saves them from a furtive bobcat, cementing their friendship. When Sam and his mom (Kippy Goldfarb) return home to Bar Nothing Ranch in Montana, he surprisingly reunites with the swans, at their summer home, Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge in Montana.
Knowing Louis’ parents (Caroline Lawton is Louis’ pragmatic mother, Cygnus) are concerned about his future and inability to communicate, Sam convinces teacher, Mrs. Hammerbotham (Charlotte Peed), to teach Louis how to read and write. Louis’ accomplishments are disappointing for him, though, because his family lack those skills.
Louis applies his reading, writing, and trumpeting to repay Cob’s debt, earning him more money than he needs. He gains fame, fortune and the love of his life, Serena (Jordan Clark), triumphantly returning home and fulfilling his dad’s prophecy.
The story doesn’t end there, though. Cob’s attempt to deliver the money erupts in a dangerous misunderstanding, injuring Cob, creating greed and chaos, but ends on an upbeat note.
BOX INFO: Joseph Robinette’s two-act, under two-hour adaptation of EB White’s book, appearing through Nov. 22 at Wheelock Family Theatre, 200 The Riverway, Boston: Fridays at 7:30 p.m.; Saturdays,Sundays at 3 p.m. Tickets, $20-$38;Pajama Party Fridays, $17. Call 617-879-2300, visit WheelockFamilyTheatre.org, or email@example.com.