Hitting the Sweet Spot: The Velveteen Rabbit

Photo Credit: Boston Children's Theatre

The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams, adapted by Burgess Clark, original music by Austin Davy, Boston Children’s TheatreNancy and Edward Roberts Studio Theatre at the Boston Center for the Arts, 12/3/11-12/18/11,  http://bostonchildrenstheatre.org/season/the-velveteen-rabbit/.

Reviewed by Craig Idlebrook

If the mark of a good play is its ability to transport you from your own day-to-day cares into another world, then the Boston Children’s Theatre’s The Velveteen Rabbit passes with flying colors.

Because of some muddled directions on the website of the Boston Children’s Theatre (Take note: it’s on Tremont Street, not Huntington Street-see link to Roberts Theatre above), we had to take two cabs and sprint just to arrive 20 minutes late to the matinee.  Sweaty, annoyed and tired, my daughter, partner and I were ushered into the Roberts Theatre.  I was feeling less than charitable about the production as I sat down.

But the staging of this simple play was almost flawless, capturing the sweet pulse of Margery Williams’s original children’s book.  Within a few moments, I had forgotten all my troubles and could float in the childlike world created by director Jay Pension and puppeteer Marjorie Tudor.

More importantly, my daughter bought into it.  Bringing your offspring to review a children’s play is like bringing a canary into a coalmine.  Either the child gets it or she doesn’t; there’s no way to explain away mediocrity in children’s theatre to a six-year old.  My daughter’s only complaint was that the play wasn’t longer; however, this might have been a good thing for some of the more wiggly young ones in the theater.

For those who don’t know the story, I will summarize, but only if you promise to check the book out of the library and read it to a loved one at bedtime: A simple, stuffed rabbit becomes a cherished companion of a boy, and then dreams of becoming real.  Love makes him real to the boy, but he wants to be real for the whole world.

In interest of preparing your offspring for possible trauma, I’ll give away the ending here.  (SPOILER ALERT!)  The boy is laid low with scarlet fever, and doctor’s orders are to burn all toys, including the rabbit.  But just when it appears all hope is lost, a fairy that acts as a sort of patron saint of beloved toys transforms the toy rabbit into a real one.  (SPOILER OVER)

The set is a marvel in understated magic.  Puppeters make the rabbit appear and disappear through well-placed holes during spirited games of hide-and-seek.  At different points, the bed transforms into a charging elephant and a biplane.  Toys talk to each other.  But all this is done in a simple, analog way that is always believable.

And Charles Clinton is incredible as Boy, the object of the rabbit’s affection.  He looks exactly like the physical embodiment of Christopher Robin of the Winnie-the-Pooh books, and he is natural and easy-going when he performs Boy’s youthful exuberance.  It was almost a relief when Clinton couldn’t quite pull of the low-energy required to show that Boy was sick; otherwise, I would worry he would be swept up too soon by Hollywood and end up having Drew Barrymore/Olsen twin troubles.  As long as Clinton continues to have fun onstage, he has a long acting career ahead of him.

This play is a great chance to introduce your young ones to the real magic of theatre.  It’s short, sweet and doesn’t try and blow the mind of young audience members.  And it talks to children about love and loss in a way parents cannot.

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