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'The Little Prince' lands in Juneau

Theatre in the Rough stages classic novella

Posted: Thursday, November 27, 2008

Seeing ourselves through the eyes of a child can give us a fresh perspective on our behavior. "Le Petit Prince," or "The Little Prince," a novella written by French author Antoine de Saint Exupéry in 1943, does just this.

Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire

Theatre in the Rough producers Katie Jensen and Aaron Elmore picked the adapted play as this year's winter performance more than two years ago because they thought the message of "The Little Prince" could benefit people in these uncertain times.

"The world is changing so much right now for everyone. We are all on a journey to find out what love means," Jensen said.

"The essential point the book points out is that, 'We cannot see well except with the heart, the essential is invisible to the eyes,'" Jensen said, quoting a poignant line spoken by the fox, played by Donnie Gott. Jensen directs the production and plays the role of the snake.

Though Jensen and Elmore picked up this book at different times in their lives, the messages had been simmering inside them for years. The book re-surfaced when the two were faced with a personal crisis and both turned to the book for guidance.

Jensen, who was initially lulled to sleep by her mother reading the book in French, was 8 when she read it for herself.

"I thought it was exotic; the concept of something being written in another language was amazing to me. The book was a touchstone for me through my adolescent years because it is not a children's book," Jensen explained.

Elmore agreed, saying some of the concepts in the book made his head hurt when he was an adolescent.

"It made me feel a little dizzy. The book was touching on things that were too big for my 19-year-old head," he said.

He says he never forgot another message from the book: "You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed."

The story of "The Little Prince" has held up in the 65 years since it was published, and it resonates with people of all ages. Leaving his very small planet that has three volcanoes, some trees and a rose, the prince embarks on a journey of understanding of the world around him. First he encounters the "men of planets," all played by Dan Reaume. The men of planets - the king who pretends to control the universe, the conceited man who only hears compliments, the drunkard who drinks because he is ashamed that he drinks, the businessman consumed with counting his money, the lamplighter who can never sleep because he has to work every minute and the geographer who never goes anywhere because he is not an explorer - all show reflective aspects of life and human nature.

The prince, played by 14-year-old Ian Andrews, meets the aviator, played by Elmore, after his plane crashes in the desert. He asks the aviator questions but doesn't answer any himself, instead demanding that the aviator draw him pictures.

Saint Exupéry drew on personal experience in writing the book: He and a navigator crashed in the Sahara in 1935 and were rescued four days later after they'd reached the point of dehydration and hallucination. And the author's own death in a plane crash in 1944, just one year after "The Little Prince" was published, was seemingly prophesized at the end of the book when the prince allows himself to be bitten by a snake, saying his body is too heavy to take back to his planet with him.

"Saint Exupéry wrote the original story in 1943, just one year before he disappeared after leaving an airbase on Corsica while flying recognizance missions for the French," Jensen said, adding that she likes that the author was a soldier and an artist, an unusual combination of opposing forces.

Although written during drastically different times, Jensen noted the striking similarities to current world events. The duration and spacing of the wars in the Middle East parallel the duration and spacing of World War I and World War II, Jensen said, in between which the book was written.

With an adapted play, Elmore and Jensen faced challenges in bringing the theatrical elements together. Elmore created a mystical set and the costumes have a certain fantasy element evocative of the story's other planets. Stage lighting was directed by Todd Hunt.

Jensen said the best part of the production for her has been working with the seasoned cast, and she mentioned that the original music composed by Bob Banghart and Patrick Murphy makes the piece extra special.

Jensen and Elmore hope audiences will come away from the performance realizing that the story is alive and just as relevant as it was 65 years ago, and that they will ask themselves essential questions.

"I want this to be the audience's journey," Jensen said.



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