I sort of had to check when the show ended to make sure I was at the Guthrie Theater, this felt like an Open Eye Theatre creation, and I mean that in a good way. The Guthrie is the Premiere Regional Theater, their shows are always well produced and immaculately designed with a budget that makes that possible. Open Eye Theatre also does beautifully designed shows but on a much smaller scale and they are known for their innovative and imaginative stagings. This production of The Little Prince uses the space allowed by the Guthrie’s McGuire Proscenium Stage but also has that unique spark of creative design and wondrous execution of Open Eye. I loved this productions look, feel, and general sense of wide eyed innocence. An unbelievable tale told in such matter-of-fact manner that one is simply swept up in the fantasy
Based on the famous novella Le Petit Prince by French author and aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and adapted by Rick Cummins and John Scoullar. The tale of The Little Prince is told to us by the Aviator who begins explaining how grown ups do not know how to perceive things. This conclusion is arrived at because when he was younger and drew a picture of a boa constrictor eating an elephant they always just see a picture of a hat. Thus, he did not become a great painter but instead a pilot. When his plane breaks down and he has to land in the desert, he comes into contact with a small golden haired child, whom he soon learns is from another planet. While the aviator tries to repair his plan before his food and water runs out the Little Prince tells him of his world on which has three volcanoes, that he has to clean out weekly, of Baobab trees which he has to constantly pull out or they create problems for his little planet. One day a rose begins to grow, he falls in love with the rose but it becomes jealous and needy of his attention and so he decides he should leave. He travels to different planets of which he tells the Aviator each is inhabited by a single individual, all of them with a negative personality trait. The play is re-enforcing the Aviators stated opinion of adults with all these examples of the ways in which adults are foolish and petty.
Steven Epp plays the Aviator and it’s his performance that sets the tone of the play from his opening moments describing his thwarted attempt to be an artist. He talks simply and with the logic of a child, without being childish, giving us the sense of a man who grew into adulthood without ever losing the clear eyed way of seeing things that the young have. It’s a wonderfully sweet and humorous performance that takes the fantastical events in stride. Reed Northrup is the Little Prince who is inquisitive and searching longing to understand and find connection. Three other actors portray the various other beings the Little Prince encounters on his travels. Nathan Keepers, whose Stanley Kowalski was a stunner at Yellow Tree Theatre this past fall, plays The King, The Snake, and the Fox. Wariboko Semenitari plays the Conceited Man and the Lamplighter, and Catherine Young plays Rose, the Businessman, and the Geographer. All three give humorous turns as these characters that stand in for the personality traits of humans. Keepers is again the standout though, his portrayal of the King alone is worth the price of admission, a silly absurd ruler who’s every word seems designed to save face and declare his power over all around him. His Fox is the first creature the Little Prince encounters on earth and, is the character with whom he makes a connection. It’s a sweet turn that is as different from the other two characters as it could be.
The production is Directed by Dominique Serrand whose creative staging seems to enlarge the space as the play goes on. Starting with a curtain only partially raised and focusing the action around a desk, as the play moves on and the prince tells of other worlds the curtain rises and the actors move out from the desk. As the world of the play opens up, so does the space on which it is performed. The Set Design is by Rachel Hauck, and though the action in the play takes place in a desert and the stories with the play take place on different planets, the design is that of the an imaginary studio from which the Aviator is telling his story. It’s a non literal approach that actually works surprisingly well. Like a studio in the imagination it creates whatever it needs to empart it’s tale. If it needs more space, the imagination creates it. It’s a wonderful job of realizing this concept. The Costumes and Puppet Designer is Olivera Gajic and this is where we really see some of fantastic creation. The look of all these characters are wonderfully realized, from the Businessman whose all body and hat, to the Fox whose tail seems to have a mind of its own. Working in perfect harmony with the look of the show, is exemplary work from Lighting Designer Yi Zhao, whose sunsets are wonderful as they beam through the blinds of the studio windows.
The Little Prince runs through February 5th for more information and to purchase tickets go to https://www.guthrietheater.org/shows-and-tickets/2022-2023-season/the-little-prince/
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