Thursday, May 27, 2010
The Man Who Planted Trees
Tuesday I took Kasia to see the stage version of The Man Who Planted Trees at the Calgary Children's Festival. I did this with a certain amount of trepidation as the story is inherently slow and abstract and Kasia is very...well, six.
I was familiar, as I am sure you are, with the NFB film version of the story. It has long been a favorite of mine; knowing this, Candas Dorsey once gave me a copy for a Christmas gift, back before there was a YouTube. It's a great film, but not one I would normally think to show Kasia. Kasia normally watches, Max and Ruby, Prank Patrol, and -- when we don't catch it fast enough to stop her, I, Carley.
The stage version on the other hand...was brilliant, hilarious, and kept Kasia enthralled. (Me too!)
The story is the same, and told with respect -- almost reverence -- and carried Kasia and I along through the desolate countryside of the opening, the sadness of the War years, the indignation over bureaucrats and politicians, and finally wonderment at the scope and fulfilment of the Utopian dream. The two actors used a minimalist set, and puppets for the character of the Man Who Planted Trees and for the bureaucrat/politician, to tell their story. Wonderful stuff.
That's only half the story. Interwoven in between all this is the character of the dog. Who can best be likened to the dog from the movie Up, though that doesn't really do justice to the originality and spontaneity of the character created here.
The play starts by introducing the dog to the audience, both establishing his comedic character and hooking the young audience long before the actual story begins. The narrator then invites our dog to play the part of the dog in the story, only our dog doesn't really have time to learn his lines, so improvises as he goes along. It is absolutely hilarious, with the dog's appearances perfectly timed to pace the main story and to ensure the young audience remains focused. And there really is quite a bit of improvisation involved as the actor doing the dog ab libbed constantly to respond to the audience or happenings on stage. The dog kept the story from dragging; the story provided structure and purpose to the dog's stand up performance.
It was masterful!
I highly recommend Richard Medrington & Rick Conte of the "Puppet State Theatre, Scotland" any time, anywhere you can see them. (They are currently on tour in North America, so they may indeed be coming to a town near you.)