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BWW Review: THE VELVETEEN RABBIT at Adventure Theatre

BWW Review: THE VELVETEEN RABBIT at Adventure Theatre
L-R Alex De Bard and Eirin Stevenson in the World Premiere Adventure Theatre production of The Velveteen Rabbit.
Photo by Sarah Straub

This veddy British tale of the undying love between a child and her lop-eared, sawdust-filled velveteen rabbit is a storybook treat to look at -- pretty enough to honor the classic children's book on which it is based and well played by a cast adept at posh British accents and lots of hopping.

Adventure Theatre's world premiere adaptation of The Velveteen Rabbit, written by Patrick Flynn, pays much respect to the tone and look of Margery Williams' 1922 book, with its venerable illustrations by William Nicholson. The puppets that join the four live actors in the show are always clever and deceptively simple as designed by Kylie Clark.

Yet the hour long production, staged with a lot of subtle charm by Jenna Duncan, occasionally droops during interludes folded in by playwright Flynn as dashes of wit and even erudition. They are indeed clever, but a little overused. He tosses in a few Gilbert & Sullivan lyrics (from H.M.S. Pinafore) that most kids won't recognize even as their parents or grandparents smile. In the Child's family library, busts of Mozart and Shakespeare bicker. Mozart sings a few symphonic snippets while Shakespeare recites bits of his plays. Again, parents will likely smile, but some kids will fidget. There were moments of restiveness among the littlest theatergoers during a performance last Sunday [Nov. 17]. The same happens when the Child and the Rabbit play at Sherlock Holmes.

Flynn also has the Child and her toy act out the duel in the poem "Jabberwocky" from Lewis Carol's "Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There." The Jabberwock monster is a neat construction, its big jaws, glowing red eyes and flapping wings not too scary because the puppeteers are right there operating everything. Truly, most stage adaptations of children's books must be fleshed out with additional material -- this book in particular, because so much of the story is emotional and internal. But the interludes designed to liven things up go on a bit too long for young attention spans.

The young Child (Eirin Stevenson) and the Rabbit (Alex De Bard) are now female characters, but their accents, the way they play make-believe and the cozy nursery where they live, complete with window seat (designed by Matthew Buttrey) just ooze early 20th century Downton Abbey opulence. The little girl wears a pinafore, white stockings and lace-up shoes. Her new toy Rabbit has appropriately droopy ears and antique plush toy markings. The Child's nanny, heard mostly as a disembodied voice, is, of course a no-nonsense Scot. Mary Myers and Alex Reeves play all the other roles and also operate and speak for puppet characters.

The emotional content of The Velveteen Rabbit touches the heart and can even bring a tear, both on stage and in print -- much like the final chapter in A.A. Milne's The House at Pooh Corner, or the theme of Toy Story 3. All deal with the idea of children growing up and not needing their toys any more. The Rabbit wonders if she can ever be "real." She learns from another toy, the Skin Horse, about what it means to become real within the power of a child's love: "'When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become real.'"

This may be a fairly complex idea for kids to process and this new play struggles a bit with clarity, but it surely offers kids and parents thoughts to ponder and a picturesque, often charming, atmosphere in which to do it. Adventure's still-new Artistic Director Chil Kong seems to have a feeling for stories that offer more than just a spoonful of sugar.

Recommended by the theater for all ages, but by this reviewer for kids 5, 6 and older.

The Velveteen Rabbit runs through Jan. 1, 2020, at Adventure Theatre MTC in Glen Echo Park, 7300 MacArthur Blvd., Glen Echo, MD 20812.

For tickets, click here.

A world premiere adaptation by Patrick Flynn of the book by Margery Williams, illustrated by William Nicholson. Directed by Jenna Duncan; scenic design by Matthew Buttrey, costumes by Kenann Modjeska Quander, puppets by Kylie Clark, lighting by Sarah Tundermann, sound by Matthew Nielson, choreography by Tony Thomas.

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