Whenever I see a show aimed specifically at young people I try and see it with the intended audience. For example seeing a weekday matinee with a bunch of students, or if I can find one, bring one with me. Today I brought my 7 (8 in a month) year old Nephew, who is dinosaur obsessed. Why? Because with this type of show, if at all possible I want to see how the intended audience reacts to it as well as seeing how well their parents/teachers will do with it. I also have rules for reviewing plays with student actors, which you can read at the end of this entry*. I also like to take young people to the theater in an effort to lower the mean age of theater audiences in general. I believe strongly in the arts as a means by which we come to understand others and our world. For this reason it is important to expose young people to the arts and encourage them to also participate in them. A venue like Stages Theatre Company in Hopkins is a great place for that to happen. Most of the cast of the show are elementary to high school aged. For young people in the audience, that can be invaluable to their understanding and something they can explore too.
Iron Hearted Violet tells the story of the refreshingly, not beautiful princess, Violet. Violet and her best friend Demetrius while exploring the castle discover a hidden room. Within the hidden room there is a book from which they unwittingly release Nybbas, an ancient God of evil into their world. They don’t realize they have done this at first but things begin to change in their world. Demetrius leaves to go with the king and his men to capture a dragon that has been reported in the nearboy kingdom of the mountain king. When they return with the captured dragon, Violet and Demetrius are at odds. In his absence Violets mother has died, and she says she will never forgive him for being away when that happened. The forces trying to pull the two friends apart are more than what we see on the surface. There are unseen but heard characters who are working behind the scenes to try and stop the growing darkness that Nybbas is spreading through the castle. Violet and Demetrius will need to to work with these unseen aids and the dragon if they hope to save their world.
The set design by Sarah Brandner is very effective, it allows for action on multiple levels, creating a sense of more space then we see. Kids will find the castle scenes that are played on the upper levels impressive. Portions of the set are also easily moved, shifted and turned to create new locations such as other areas of the castle and the mountains. I’m not sure who to credit with the creation of the dragon which is basically the head portion, though it’s wings do make an appearance as well. The Costume and Make Up Designer is Samantha Fromm Haddow and the Prop Designer is Bridget Gustafson. Whoever created it, it was hands down my nephews favorite part of the show. It was a very impressive design, a head that was fully created giving the sense of reality, but shows the kids a more conceptual version of the rest of the dragon, helping them bridge the gap between seeing things fully presented for them and suggesting the rest allowing them to use their imaginations as well. The last element that I want to draw attention to was the Sound Design by Peter Morrow. The use of directional sound in the play was very effective in emmersing the audience in the play. Much of the audience were looking around to see where certain sounds came from, creating a sense that the story was all around them not just limited to the stage.
The Adaptation by Playwright and Director Jeannine Coulombe is the weakest link. Their ideas at play in terms of the role of “story” also a link to mirrors and the world in which the story takes place. I sort of got the ideas behind these elements but it was all a bit too unclear, I suspect these were elements that were important thematically in the book by Kelly Barnhill. They probably seemed like they were too important to leave out, but they are lost in the translation and only seem to muddy the story. I was a bit unclear on those elements and my nephew found the play enjoyable but confusing. He thoroughly enjoyed the play though as did I, I think most parents and children will enjoy it. At 80 minutes in length I’d recommend paying attention to the age recommendation of this one, which is 7 and up. Based on your child you might want to think of it more on the 8 or 9 and up scale. For more information and to purchase tickets go to https://www.stagestheatre.org/
*In general I do not review the performances of young actors. I feel it is important for young people to take part in the arts. I want them to participate in theatre because they love doing it, not for the feeling they get when someone praises what they have done. On the flip side I don’t think they need to hear criticism of their performances at such a young age. A negative comment can be hard on a mature performer but it goes with the territory, as an adult actor you have to develop a thick skin and accept that not everyone is always going to like what you’ve done. But young artists are not always equipped to deal with that. Be sure that if the acting was terrible it would be reflected in the quality of the production itself, which is what my review will be. As a rule In a show dominated by young actors I will tend to simply avoid performance discussion in general including the adults in the cast.