The Children’s Theatre Company latest production Locomotion is something of a gut wrenching story that thankfully is told in a rather positive manner. The two children I was with were 9 and 10 and it was a little too sophisticated for them. The recommended age is 9 and up, but I think a better guideline would be 12 and up. The story is told in a manner that’s a little on the complex side for younger children. They can follow the plot more or less, but it’s a show that contains a lot of flashbacks and poetry which I think lost some of the younger members of the audience. Paradoxically, that’s probably what makes it a more interesting narrative for those of us on the other end of the age spectrum. I appreciated the way information was revealed slowly, filling in the missing pieces of the plot. I also enjoyed the way poetry was used as a way for the characters to connect with their emotions. There are some difficult themes and incidents but they are handled in the way that kids sometimes onboard that kind of stuff, matter of factly. In this way, it avoids feeling manipulative, we are allowed to go along on the characters journey rather than being directed when and how to feel. All of this is accomplished through sensitive direction and some strong performances.
Locomotion takes the audience into the life of 11-year-old Lonnie Motion, as he finds new tools – theChildren’s Theatre Company
result of a school poetry assignment – which help him to process the tumult of life in foster care. As
Lonnie discovers the power of poetry, he experiences deeper connections to his new foster mother,
his school friend Enrique, his teacher Ms. Marcus, and his beloved younger sister Lili.
The show was adapted by Jacqueline Woodson from her book and it’s a script that doesn’t waste a scene. The show runs about 75 minutes and it covers a lot of ground in that short running time. Nothing feels rushed, and nothing feels superfluous. That’s kind of a rare thing, when you leave a show thinking that was just right. Woodson is a gifted writer ass every aspect works. The poetry, the non-linear narrative, the relationships between the characters, the voices with which they all speak are unique to their age and experience, and it lends an authenticity to each of the characters. The use of music within the play is wonderfully utilized, whether it be the classic song “Locomotion“, Church songs, or Rap as an example of one characters entry point to poetry.
The cast is led by Junie Edwards as Lonnie in their first lead role ever and I very much doubt it will be their last. Edwards is the through line that connects each of the plays characters and they transition between insecure new foster son, big brother, friend, student, and even eight and eleven years of age effortlessly. The transitions between the “now” and the “past” could very easily have been unclear, but Edwards guides us through them seamlessly. In one aspect, they were almost too good. At one point the entire cast is singing, Lonnie’s friend Enrique played by Ellis Dossavi is supposed to have an amazing singing voice, and Dossavi has a nice voice, but Edwards’ is fantastic. In fact, it’s in that moment when Edwards voice takes center stage when I sensed I was seeing someone who I’ll be following for many years to come. Dossavi and Edwards banter as friends feels real, they have a playful give and take. Doing some heavy lifting are the two adult cast members, Charla Marie Bailey and Darrick Mosley, who each play multiple roles. Each one unique and fully realized, my favorite of Bailey’s is Ms Edna Lonnie’s new foster Mother. Mosley seems to be having a lot of fun with the role of Lonnie’s Dad in the flashbacks, and it’s the playfulness of that performance that really lends a sense of loss to the story.
Director Talvin Wilks really gets Woodson’s script and finds interesting ways visually and through staging to take us into the minds of the characters. Whether it’s the flashbacks or the characters inner voice it’s always clear what is happening and it’s always accompanied by something visual that feels complementary rather than unnecessary. When I first walked into the theater I had to wonder if the set was repurposed from their production last year of Diary of a Wimpy Kid. I felt like I’d seen those ruled notebook pages before. Maybe they were, but once the show was in full swing I found the Set Design by Maruti Evans to be inspired. Thematically, it tied in perfectly and combined with Projection Designs by Kathy Maxwell the versatility of the set in terms of locations and representing the frame of minds was unexpected and effective. It’s a strong show in every sense and it’s bold visual style works beautifully.
Locomotion runs through March 5th at Children’s Theatre Company in Minneapolis for more information and to purchase tickets go to https://childrenstheatre.org/whats-on/locomotion-22-23/
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