There is something magical about the color green. It signifies spring and therefore new life. Many of William Shakespeare’s comedies include a midsection that is set in a “green world” — often a forest — where uplifting transformations take place. And, of course, most theaters have a “green room,” a sort of waiting room where actors can relax while not onstage — where they can transform from actor to character.
Entering Raleigh Little Theatre’s Gaddy Goodwin Teaching Theatre for last Friday night’s performance of The Velveteen Rabbit (directed by Kathleen Rudolph), we felt the magic long before the show started. Scenic designer Thomas Mauney gave us a feast of green. The floor is painted to look like a yard or a meadow. With audience on all four sides, the acting area is surrounded by a green “hedge,” perhaps two feet high. And green fabric hangs on the walls behind the audience members. If that’s not magical enough, late in the play a young boy’s bedroom is almost instantly transformed into a forest setting.
This children’s classic about childhood, growing up, and a bond with a favorite toy is presented as a series of flashbacks by a now grown Steve (played by Brent Wilson). The adult narrator device moves the story through his childhood memories and affords the audience a dual perspective: that of the adult Steve in addition to that of seven-year-old Steve. Curiously, while this is adult Steve’s story, he admits a few times that the story contains parts that he did not know prior to the telling. Magic? This is a green world, and a Magic Fairy does take center stage at one point.
The troupe does a good job of playing to all sides in this “theater-in-the-square.” Michael McKenna is delightful as young Steve. Calvin Noble deftly portrays an older brother who both loves and lovingly torments him.
The toys look wonderful (and perform wonderfully). Julia Ryan as “Boat” and Gray Gall as “Train” are aloof, behaving “hard” and “mechanical” (as might be expected from mechanical toys). On the other hand, Hobby Horse and Velveteen Rabbit are “warm” and “inviting.” Patsy Clarke is endearing as the wise old horse who counsels the much younger and innocent rabbit (Neil Bullard’s portrayal is spot-on). The horse teaches the rabbit about life and love and being “real.” “Love is a magical gift” is one of her messages.
We cannot imagine better (or more clever) costumes than those designed for these toys by Jenny Mitchell. From the Department of Picky-Picky: maybe the rabbit’s ears could have been set a little further back on his head — they obscured the cute rabbit face way too often. The costumes for Wild Rabbits Caroline Farmer and Marleigh Purgar-McDonald and Magic Fairy Hannah Levinson were also quite nice. And these three actors are also a joy to watch.
We saw three shows in one. There was the onstage show. There was the show produced by the children in the audience who were captivated and delighted. And there was the show performed by us adults in the audience who were captivated and delighted by both the show itself and the obvious joy that the children were getting from it.
Kids will relate to the scenes involving young Steve and his make-believe adventures with the Velveteen Rabbit. And everyone will understand that, to a child, toys certainly do become “real.”
SPOILER ALERT (as if there might be someone who does not know the tale): It is not all happiness and smiles. The Velveteen Rabbit (along with the other toys) finds himself thrown away. Staging seems to suggest that “all [toys] go to heaven” — there is even a halo. Ultimately, however, no toy is hurt in the presentation of this play; and the Velveteen Rabbit and the boy both grow and change for the better as a result of having known each other. Both become real.
Fans of Brent Wilson can delight in seeing him play — in addition to the adult Steve — a shark, a crocodile, a submarine, a killer whale, a tornado, and a helicopter.
The play teaches adults as well as children to believe in themselves and to embrace change. All of this in a 50-minute one-act play. What’s not to like?
SECOND OPINION: March 11th Raleigh, NC Triangle Arts and Entertainment review by Susie Potter: http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2015/03/the-velveteen-rabbit-is-an-endearing-show-for-children-of-all-ages/; March 4th Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Leah Montgomery: http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/the-velveteen-rabbit/Event?oid=4345075; and March 4th Raleigh, NC WRAL.com preview by Sarah Lindenfeld Hall, written for “Go Ask Mom”: http://www.wral.com/raleigh-little-theatre-opens-the-velveteen-rabbit-/14484900/.
Raleigh Little Theatre presents THE VELVETEEN RABBIT at 7:30 p.m. March 19 and 20 and 1 and 5 p.m. March 21 and 22 in RLT’s Gaddy-Goodwin Teaching Theatre, 301 Pogue St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27607.
TICKETS: $14 ($10 children age 12 and under).
BOX OFFICE: 919-821-3111 or https://raleighlittletheatre.secure.force.com/.
SHOW: http://raleighlittletheatre.org/shows/14-15/velveteen.html and https://www.facebook.com/events/671856349590087/.
PRESENTER: http://www.raleighlittletheatre.org/, https://www.facebook.com/RaleighLittleTheatre, https://twitter.com/RLT1936, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raleigh_Little_Theatre, and http://www.youtube.com/user/raleighlittletheatre.
2014-15 SEASON: http://raleighlittletheatre.org/shows/14-15/index.html.
NOTE: All shows are wheelchair accessible, and assistive-listening devices are available for all shows.
The Velveteen Rabbit (1922 children’s novel): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Velveteen_Rabbit (Wikipedia).
Novel (with original illustrations): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Velveteen_Rabbit (nternet Archive).
Margery Williams (London-born American novelist, 1881-1944): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Margery_Williams (Wikipedia).
The Velveteen Rabbit (2009 play): http://www.dramaticpublishing.com/p2626/The-Velveteen-Rabbit-%28Still%29/product_info.html (Dramatic Publishing).
James Still (American playwright): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Still_%28playwright%29 (Wikipedia).
Kathleen Rudolph (director and RLT associate education director): http://raleighlittletheatre.org/learn/youth/faculty.html (RLT bio).
Pamela Vesper has been a Raleigh resident for more than 20 years. A local attorney for licensed professionals, when she’s not in court, Pam can be found watching or participating in local theater productions or enjoying the vibrant Raleigh music and craft beer scene. She also loves indie and foreign films and was an anchor on the local cable show, Movie Minutes. Pam has an opinion on just about everything; just ask her. Kurt Benrud is a graduate of Cary High School and N.C. State University, and he has taught English at both. He first became involved in local theater in 1980. He has served on the board of directors for both the Cary Players and the Cary Playwrights’ Forum. He is also a volunteer reader with Triangle Radio Reading Service. Click here to read their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.