BWW Review: Pollyanna's YOUNG BEAR Educates and Entertains Austin's Kids
Based on the life of a young Caucasian girl taken in the early 1800's to live among Native Americans in the Mid-Western U.S, Lou Clark's YOUNG BEAR follows five year old Frances Slocum's personal journey through two different cultures and looks at each through the eyes of a young child. As a child, Frances Slocum was taken from her home in what is now Wilkes Barre, PA in 1778 to live among Native Americans.
An adult Frances known as Maconaquah, ably played by Teresa Morrow-Brown, narrates the story as the rest of the cast provides a solid, and at times, serious portrayal of the conflict between Indian Traders and Native Americans. The young Frances (Uyen-Anh Dang) is captured by Tuck Horse (Aaron Alexander) who brings her home to his tribe and wife, Woman Who Shines (Jessica Hughes). On the journey to settle in a safer area, Frances evolves into Maconaquah, Young Bear, and is visited by Turtle (Craig Kanne) as a powerful omen that she will someday be a leader of her tribe. The journey brings Young Bear closer to her new found family and over the course of some years, Young Bear finally chooses to live with them forever. The journey Young Bear makes is both physical and spiritual, as Tuck Horse helps her navigate through this world and Turtle helps her find her way in spirit.
Literal story telling as a narrative device can be a weakness in theatre and film, but in the case of Pollyanna Theatre's production and Judy Matetzschk-Campbell's direction, it lends itself to the culture in which young Frances finds herself. Aaron Alexander and Jessica Hughes provide earnest, subtle and honest performances as Young Bear's parents, and Uyen-Anh Dang gives Young Bear the authentic and energetic spunk of youth. It's a tough job as an adult to play a child without parody, and Dang succeeds. Daniel Sullivan is pleasant as Young Bear's friend Little Turtle. Craig Kanne and Bethany Harbaugh effectively fill the rest of the play's roles, from interested children to scary Indian traders.
While it's not a deep dive into the differences between white men and Native Americans, it's not without perils designed for its target audience (2nd through 5th graders). Like all Pollyanna productions, Matetzschk-Campbell rises above most other children's theatre producers by providing a study guide for teachers that includes TEKS/Educational objectives, activities, discussion questions and resources for further study. Additionally, Pollyanna always produces new and original work, and playwright Lou Clark was on hand to enjoy the premiere of, this, her latest children's play.
Young Bear by Lou Clark
Running time: 50 minutes