The touring arm of the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, the Imaginary Theatre Company, when it has filled the school year with performances for students in the larger St. Louis area on both sides of the river, for one weekend shares its productions with the general public. They usually have two plays, each about an hour long – the length of school assemblies. And I am always pleased to see them. They provide a showcase for the young actors, and they display the ingenious and delightful ways the director and the designers provide staging, scenery, and costumes that can fit almost anywhere and then be packed up in a van and be off to the next place. And that’s what we saw this year again, even though the performances took place in the generous and well-equipped Kirkwood Performing Arts Center.
The two plays were James and the Giant Peach and The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, both adapted from very popular books for youngsters. Edward Tulane I had seen staged previously; this was my first acquaintance with James and his Peach, though it exists not only as the book, but as a play, as a musical, and as a movie.
The original book was written by Roald Dahl. It is, as you might imagine, more than a little strange. The boy James Henry Trotter lives with his parents in an English village by the sea. But when he is four, his parents are eaten by a rhinoceros that has escaped from the zoo (as I said, strange). He then lives with his two aunts, Spiker and Sponge, who treat him very badly. More strange things happen, and the peach tree in the yard grows one peach, one very large peach, the size of a house. James finds a tunnel into the peach and there discovers, as one might expect, some insects, who are quite happy to be living – and eating — inside a peach. They also are the size of humans, and they become James’s friends. One of them cuts the peach free of the tree, and it rolls into the ocean, where sharks threaten it. But the spider spins webs and the worm tempts seagulls, who trapped in the web list the peach out of the water, fly it across the Atlantic, where it lands on the Empire State Building. Rescued by the New York Fire Department, James and his insect friends all become happy, successful New Yorkers. As I said, it is all a little strange. But really good theatre.
In the book by Kate Dicamillo, 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.
The Imaginary Theatre Company has six actors and a stage manager. The six actors play all the parts, and they and the stage manager, Britteny Henry, arrange the props and scenery as needed. Daniel McRath played James, age-appropriately. He also spoke the thoughts of Edward Tulane, who was a lovely white rabbit doll, probably more than one, because those who found him kept changing what he was wearing, once even thinking he was a girl, which made Edward very unhappy. The other five actors, and I wish I could identify them clearly enough to give each the praise deserved, were Giac Noelle, Mo Moellering, Christina Yancy, Janna Linae, and Thomas Patrick Riley. They moved smoothly and clearly from one character to the next, fully investing in each.
Adam Flores directed David Wood’s adaptation of James and the Giant Peach. Adena Varner directed Dwayne Hartford’s adaptation of The Miraculous Journey of Eddward Tulane.
Jermaine Manor was the Musical Director, Michael Baxter the Choreographer, Scott Loebl once again the delightfully imaginative Set Designer, and Kriste Chyere Osi the very clever Costume Designer.
And I once again enjoyed what the young students have been enjoying this school year.