Kate DiCamillo’s story for young people The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane has been one of the most popular books of the past couple of decades, and not just for its intended very young audience. It has been turned into a play, done frequently in schools and by professional companies for young people, and into a movie. Children, parents, teachers have all lauded it.
Yet it has also stirred up a minority of dissenters, mostly it appears among parents. They feel children should not be subjected to such a dark tale.
Edward Tulane is a doll, a china doll rabbit. As such, he is at the mercy of those who possess him. Usually he is fortunate and is much loved, as he was by the young girl Abilene, to whom he was given by her grandmother, a very expensive doll purchased in Paris. But when Abilene takes him on an ocean voyage to visit Paris, some roughneck boys grab him and toss him around, and he falls into the sea. There he is stuck buried in the seabed for months, maybe years, until a lucky wave and a helpful fisherman pull him out.
And so his miraculous journey begins. His very presence provides comfort to an older grieving couple, a hobo and his dog introduce Edward to a whole community of homeless wanderers, a farmer needs a scarecrow, Edward brightens a sad little boy and his very ill sister, but their bitterly angry father smashes Edward’s china head in a jealous rage, and finally a doll mender restores Edward’s appearance and leads him back to his beginning and to someone who loves him.
Edward’s sufferings are serious and are barely resolved. But in the production at Webster University’s Sargent Conservatory, a reassuring environment that can comfort as it alarms has been created by director Doug Finlayson; music director Noah Lovins; scenic designer Maggie Nelson; costume, wig, and makeup designer Lucy Garlich; lighting designer Greyson Norris; and sound designer Katelyn Gillette. Nelson’s sets and Garlich’s costumes use the fabrics whose designs we know from what we see in our homes. Storytellers who tell and sing Edward’s story reassure us that, however dark the moment, they are always finally in control of the story. Eventually Edward, though he is made of clay, finds his own voice to acknowledge the love he has found. And director Doug Finlayson and his actors Samy Cardero, Jailyn Genyse, Nathan Ayala, Emma McDonough, Luka Cruz-Shorack, Hannah Moorhead, Chase Harless, Anthony Comunale, Michaela Sasner, and Remi Mark, most playing more than one role, fully investing in each yet, again, preserving a familiar face for us.
Because we eventually can hear Edward speak, he comes to seem more real to us, more human. And perhaps we always play some kind of similar role in both creating and recognizing those about us. Sort of like the way we create a play as we watch it.
Photo by Phillip Hamer