Wednesday, October 29, 2014

theatre review THE MIRACULOUS JOURNEY OF EDWARD TULANE, Childsplay, Oct. 25

To read my review at Talkin' Broadway, click here

Kyle Sorrell, "Edward Tulane," and David Dickinson

"What it means to love and be loved" is the important life lesson at the center of the moving, touching and beautiful Childsplay production of The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. Childsplay premiered the show last season to critical acclaim, including recently winning seven ariZoni Theatre Awards, taking the honors for Best Overall Production of a Play and Best Original Script. The show is currently receiving four productions across the country this season and Childsplay has also brought the show back for a return engagement through November 16th.

Based on Kate DiCamillo's 2006 young adult novel and adapted by Dwayne Hartford,Edward Tulane follows the adventures of a china rabbit doll that is first given to a young girl named Abilene in the 1930s. With a painted-on mouth, Edward is unable to talk, though he speaks his thoughts to himself. At first, the self-absorbed rabbit doesn't care much for Abilene, concerned more about what outfit he is wearing and if he is placed in a position so he can see the world outside. But once he is separated from the young girl he begins a journey during which he encounters a series of people who take him into their homes and hearts and, through the course of his adventures, Edward discovers the feelings of loss, hope and just what love means. Hartford's adaptation brings the story magically to life.

The production features a cast of four actors, including Childsplay Associate Artists Katie McFadzen and Debra K. Stevens. Director David Saar, his exceptional cast and his highly creative design team don't make a false move in bringing this magical Depression-set journey to life. Kyle Sorrell, who also wrote the original folk based score (and won an ariZoni for his efforts), portrays Edward's thoughts with a soft, sweet, matter of fact voice that works beautifully to bring the selfish china rabbit doll to life. Stevens plays numerous parts and is a complete wonder as the two young girls who fall in love with Edward; her childlike expressions, movements and gentle voice combine effortlessly to make you believe she is the sweet natured Abilene as well as another young child suffering from pneumonia. Stevens also makes a lovable and realistic dog. McFadzen portrays various characters, male and female, young and old, using her wide, animated eyes and vocal inflections to transform with ease. She also provides most of the narration for the piece with perfect, measured delivery. David Dickinson's fiddle playing combines beautifully with Sorrell's folksy guitar based score and he magically changes with various accents from a fisherman to a heartfelt hobo. The transformations the three make, from character to character, are nothing short of revelatory as they become each new role. But it is Sorrell's moving performance that will stick with you for a long time, as he takes us along Edward's emotional journey from self-absorption to heartbreak, hope and the understanding of loving and being loved.

Saar's direction is inspired and includes some fairly elaborate sequences, including Edward being flung over the side of a ship and off a train, as well as many quiet emotional moments that are touching in their simplicity. The highly theatrical production includes set designer Jeff Thomson's creative wooden multi-level turntable that revolves to move us along on Edward's journey and the use of wooden chairs and crates that the cast reconfigures to portray various settings. The props and Adriana Diaz's touching Depression-era earth-tone costumes are always visible around the stage and allow us to witness the actors as they change clothing and move props and set pieces around to become new characters and creatively change the locations. Rick Paulsen's sumptuous lighting design is highly elaborate. Utilizing a curved screen that surrounds the stage, Paulsen embellishes numerous sequences in portraying a storm at sea, life under the water, sunny days, and starry nights. The creative elements also allow theatregoers' imaginations to assist in the transformation of the simple set, props and costumes into the many settings and characters of the play.

Combining the power of theatre with the journey of self-discovery isn't something new, yet this tale of a china rabbit doll who learns to love will touch your heart, stay with you, and most likely make you shed a few tears. The combination of the beautiful story, the inventive design elements, and the extremely talented cast are a perfect example for theatregoers young and old to see how theatre can transport us to different places and how it can inspire us and make us think. Childsplay's The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane is a celebration of the magic of theatre and the wonder of life.

With many adult predicaments, including death and loss, the show is recommended for children ages seven and up.

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane at Childsplay runs through November 16th, 2014, at the Tempe Center for the Arts, 700 W. Rio Salado Parkway in Tempe, with performances on Saturdays at 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. and Sundays at 1 p.m. Tickets are on sale at or at the Tempe Center for the Arts Box Office (480) 350-2822 (ext. 0)

Photo: Tim Trumbule

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