BWW Review: CHILD-ISH Uses Children's Words To Create Funny, Moving Conversations On Love
Sometimes you need a little reminder that children are wise beyond their years, and CHILD-ISH is a stellar example of just how much kids learn from watching the world around them. Written by Sunny Drake alongside the CHILD-ISH Collective and directed by Alan Dilworth, the production is currently a work in progress but shows great potential through its handling of verbatim quotes from its child collaborators.
The script is largely based on interviews Drake held with children aged five to eleven, and the show begins with a pre-recorded audio piece in which Drake explains the rules to his interview subjects. Rather than play the original responses through audio, the ensemble take turns answering his questions and consenting to the experience which lends itself to a funny start. From there, several scenes exploring children's views on marriage, love, and friendship play out with the cast rotating through solo, small group, and full ensemble arrangements.
The cast, composed of Walter Borden, Maggie Huculak, Sonny Mills, Zorana Sadiq, and Itir Arditi do a great job of channeling their inner kids. They manage to translate children's ideas and personalities through an adult body, while carefully balancing respect for their words and ensuring the charm and innocent silliness of kids still comes through. Mills is a comedic highlight, dropping one-liners and handling some of the more physical comedy to steal ensemble pieces and lighten more serious scenes. His explanation of dating, which I'll leave at a blanket statemet to avoid spoilers, is hysterical.
Huculak takes on a more serious, know-it-all personality in ensemble comedic moments to great effect - her characters are like if a smart 10-year-old had the body, voice, and dry humour of Christine Baranski - but Huculak's versatility allows her to goof around just as easily. She also offers a touching monologue on crushes that's both heartbreaking and self-affirming. Sadiq does great justice to a scene featuring a Syrian child explaining what "ghost friends" are to her Canadian colleagues, and Arditi's detailing of a child's experience with harassment and not being able to consent to something is gut-wrenching.
Borden is a delight throughout the performance and tends to steal group scenes with his warm voice and extremely expressive face. Borden and Huculak's shared scene in a 'nursery' home is extremely endearing - their silly banter is a sharp contrast to the philosophical debates they have, and the piece really highlights the effectiveness of casting adults in roles where children have provided the script.
CHILD-ISH is most successful in its smaller scenes, and at times the jumps from subject to subject can be a bit jarring. All in all, though, it's a clever idea that earns (and deserves) its laughs and pulls on the heartstrings, even in its unfinished state. As it continues to develop, it will be interesting to see how it changes and how exactly Drake and the CHILD-ISH collective are going to wrap it up - hopefully we'll see the 'Kidifesto' remain in some way, as reading the young collaborator's statement out loud with the audience and actors was like a mini self-care session.
CHILD-ISH ran through August 14 at The Theatre Centre, 1115 Queen St. W., Toronto, ON.
For more information, visit http://summerworks.ca/artists/child-ish/
Main photo credit: Graham Isador