Beauty of 'The Little Prince' allows immersion in another realm

Posted: Thursday, December 04, 2008

Those who are familiar with Antoine de Saint Exupéry's novella "Le Petit Prince" will recall the outline of the story: A boy comes to Earth from his domain, a tiny star named B 612. He has become enamored of an exquisite rose on his planet who wounds and confuses him. So he decides to explore the galaxy to learn about love and responsibility, finally arriving on Earth. He lands in the Sahara desert and meets a pilot, who, though initially irritated with the Prince's ceaseless questions and requests, grows to appreciate the prince's priorities, allowing a shift in perspective that is quite contagious.

Such a shift in perspective also allowed me to fully appreciate Theatre in the Rough's adaptation of the 1943 classic. At first, the slightly histrionic choreography and nearly maudlin strains of lost innocence threatened to mar my enjoyment. But, because of the beauty of the production on many levels, I was soon drawn in by the invitation to realign with a nobler truth.

To start, the set is gorgeous: very simple but also luscious with vibrant desert colors of gold and burgundy. Three attractive semi-circular painted forms are ingeniously and variously configured into undulating dunes, a garden wall, courting benches, a sparkling spring, mountains, and planets. The only other set elements are a concave scrim which bounces light to wonderful effect, and a smattering of modern oriental carpets. There are other clever accents, such as the three volcanoes on the Little Prince's planet being depicted by small lampshades, and some Icarus-style wings for the downed plane.

This gem of an adaptation is an excellent venue for showcasing the many talents of Theatre in the Rough co-founder Aaron Elmore. Not only has Elmore fabricated a charming and playful set, but, as the lost aviator, he regales us with simple charcoal drawings throughout the show. Having admired many of Aaron's murals around downtown for years, I truly enjoyed witnessing this aspect of his creative flair in the moment.

All the smaller roles are commendable, and except for the Snake, similarly charming, absurd and deeply self-absorbed. I especially enjoyed the impish and open-hearted performance of Donnie Gott as the Fox, from whom the Prince learns valuable lessons about being tamed. Dan Reaume brings to life all the foolish men the Little Prince meets on his way to Earth, and plays them with his characteristic flair, pomposity, wide range of accents, and hats. Megan Behnke is delightful as the petulant Rose who torments the sweetly attentive prince. These minor characters also serve as chorus, and stage props - certainly inventions of the astute director, Katie Jensen, who also plays the Snake.

The Snake strikes a different chord. Jensen uses her dusky voice and penchant for lugubrious melodrama intelligently. Dressed in stark black, holding a realistic serpent toy, she embodies the dual executrix and goddess-savior. As in many dramas, the Snake symbolizes both life and death, knowledge and the unknown.

Jensen found the right balance between mysterious fantasy and ancient parable. The players have a contemporary flair, but the dance-like blocking, and simple flowing garments provide a timeless quality. The grand theme of "what is really important" is successfully captured here.

Another beautiful aspect of the show is the portrayal of the title role by Ian Andrews. Elmore and Jensen have cultivated Andrews' talent over the years, and now, at age 14, this is seemingly the perfect role for him. Although a good portion is skill, surely part of his extraordinary aptitude in the role is being on the brink of manhood himself. We witness the character of the adorable, tender, indomitably insistent little prince experience curiosity, discovery, disillusionment, despair and finally the resolve of newly treasured maturity. Young Mr. Andrews is resplendent with his unvarnished demeanor, wheat-gold hair and lithe figure elegantly clothed in regal garments, true to Theatre in the Rough style.

Unique to this production is an original score by Bob Banghart, mostly on synthesizer, also featuring bass and cello licks courtesy of Patrick Murphy. The music is haunting yet serene, and enhances the effect of seamless continuity the actors achieve. This company plays well together.

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