A DECIDEDLY SUPERIOR PLAY
There is such a wide variety (and disparity) of shows suitable for the pre-teen set (and below) that any audience takes its boredom-threshold in hand when attending said shows.
But when a decidedly superior play and production comes your way, in a venue you trust, it’s worth the effort and expense to go see it.
Such a delight was the Puppet State Theatre Company, recently at the gorgeous Wallis Annenberg (smaller) theatre in Beverly Hills. The PST Company, comprising two actor/writers and one director/writer, introduced themselves to us with The Man Who Planted Trees, adapted from a 1953 short novel by Jean Giono, an utterly-charming piece at just one-hour’s length about a wanderer in the southern French low-water plains in 1913 (Rick Conte), who is befriended by a fortyish sheep-herder named Jean (Richard Medrington) and his dog. The two actors narrate and manipulate the puppets and villages and whatever is needed to put across this lovely tale, allowing for improvisation, laughter and, ultimately, tears.
As directed by Allie Cohen, the two actors and the simple setting gave the audience – especially the kids – full access to how puppetry, improv and storytelling are best accomplished: trust that you have the goods, allow time for events to sink in, and listen to the reaction. Conte, especially, was quite good at improvising lines which make Medrington laugh. That contagion was beautifully spread to the audience. And Elspeth Murray’s lighting design and Barney Strachan’s sound designed helped enormously in creating a different place and time for us.
One can only be grateful such kinds of professional children’s theatre exist, giving us all a chance to relive some of the innocence of a previous age, sans cynicism or dullness.
Dale Reynolds, Stage Happenings
The Man Who Planted Trees played from October 7th-19th, 2014, as part of a world-wide series of performances. The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts is at 9390 Santa Monica Blvd, Beverly Hills, CA 90210 (in the Depression-era old Post Office). Ticket info: 310.746.3800 or at www.thewallis.org.