note: entire contents copyright 2009 by Carl A. Rossi
Margery (narrator) … Victoria Brandano
Boy … Jacob Cofer
Nana … Channing Shippen
Velveteen Rabbit … Ian Shain
Model Boat; Fairy … Rosie Cerulli
Timothy; The Wooden Lion; u/s Skin Horse … Tomer Kimia
Skin Horse … Kevin Paquette
Rabbit 1; u/s Boy … Kassiani Mamalaskis
Rabbit 2; Tin Soldier; u/s Velveteen Rabbit … Alexandra Berube
A good test of a playwright’s technique is how he adapts another’s work. Burgess Clark, the Artistic Director of Boston Children’s Theatre, adapts very, very well. In little over a week’s time, I’ve happily sat through his versions of Dylan Thomas’ A CHILD’S CHRISTMAS IN WALES (in collaboration with Boston Playwrights’ Theatre) and, now, Margery Williams’ THE VELVETEEN RABBIT for the BCT. Mr. Clark lets these stories tell themselves, narrative-wise, and fleshes them out with dialogue faithful to his authors’ contrasting styles: try inserting some of WALES’ florid, figgy-pudding arias into RABBIT’s prim, starchy nursery-speak, or vice-versa --- you cannot: each adaptation sounds distinctly like itself; paradoxically, Mr. Clark’s own voice --- warm and humane --- comes through in his faithfulness to Mr. Thomas and Ms. Williams. Should you attend both productions, this holiday season (RABBIT in the afternoon; WALES in the evening), you may go home feeling that the human race is not so hopeless after all once you put away the gadgets and refocus on the heartfelt, the wondrous, the miracles of the everyday (we need not, should not, be clockwork oranges, twenty-four/seven!). Good children’s theatre, such as this RABBIT, mustn’t be gooey escapism but, rather, lessons for children and recharging for adults…those adults who no longer believe in magic and happy endings (if they ever did) --- oh, how saddening!
Mr. Clark’s adaptation, of course, is based on Ms. Williams’ beloved tale about a stuffed rabbit-doll who becomes doubly-real (first in his young owner’s eyes and, then, as an actual rabbit), acted out by BCT students as onstage actors, as voiceovers and as the life force behind enchanting puppets designed by Marjorie Tudor, daughter of the late Tasha Tudor, famed children’s author/illustrator. (I dare you not to tear up or get a lump in your throat at the play’s end…) Two BCT boy-actors are in WALES --- they are believable as the scruffy, ornery, combative little animals that boys tend to be; Ms. Tudor’s puppets may be enchanting, but the true spellbinders are the four humans who co-exist alongside them: if Jacob Cofer makes a rather belligerent Boy, his Boy is in the traditional Brit-mode: a future Empire-builder (believable, bawling accent, too), and I’m amazed that Victoria Brandano and Channing Shippen as the narrator and the nanny are only in their late teens; they take to the stage, admirably (and the stage, to them) --- and in period, too. She may appear only for an instant, but Rosie Cerulli’s fairy enters quite simply in her winged costume and softly declaims with all the dignity of a Victorian in a Christmas pantomime (and, this, a child!). Ian Shain’s voiceovers for the Rabbit are properly neutral, almost androgynous, allowing both sexes to identify with it; oddly, Ms. Tudor has not supplied any Rabbit puppets that show the creature in physical decline (an oft-sited requisite for becoming Real).
THE VELVETEEN RABBIT is the first BCT production that I’ve attended --- what a pleasure to discuss Master Cofer and the Misses Brandano, Channing and Cerulli as artists rather than as Little Darlings not to be criticized for fear of hurting their parents’ feelings! These students may still be clay, but they are clay being shaped through theatre-technique; the BCT program lists six (6) acting classes for ages four to eighteen including acting “from the inside out” which I gather means teaching a child how to express himself which, in turn, builds his confidence, onstage and in life. For those who view theatre as a waste of time for youngsters --- so much horsing around when they should be looking for steady employment --- well, let me tell you: a properly-trained theatre-child is no stranger to self-discipline, can follow directions, and knows the meaning of team-spirit, and that built-in confidence will keep him going should he pursue a career in this mercurial thing called the Thea-tuh. The Boston Children’s Theatre is now entering its sixth decade --- the city’s oldest practicing theatre organization --- thus, they must be doing something right.