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  • Writer's pictureBen Kemper

The Little Prince

Or: “What is Essential Is Invisible to the Eye”

It is a constant amazement and vexation to me that the shows I love cause me so much more pain than the shows I hate. I first met David Catlin’s production of The Little Prince two years ago and it Tamed me. In this case “tamed” does not imply the master/servant relation we commonly couple with the word but means simply “to establish ties”. I still hold that production up as one of the best theatrical evenings I’ve ever seen. So when the news came that it would be remounted at Lookingglass I was both wildly ecstatic and deeply troubled. Would it be as good as I remembered? Would I, at curtain’s fall, still feel my knees go weak and my hands reach out for more, one more minute, one more breath? The answer is an emphatic yes.

The story is as strange a one as an old mythology, a timeless whimsical tale that somehow lowers its pail deep into the wells of our souls. It begins with a lonely Aviator (Ian Barford) relating to us how six years ago he crashed his single prop plane into the middle of the Sahara, with little food, precious little water and no idea of how get back to civilization. At dusk on his first day in that land of tears the Aviator met a strange little man, with golden hair and a penchant for asking questions without answering them. This Little Prince (Amelia Hefferon), had come from a tiny planet high in the firmament, and had been driven from his home by inner turmoil after cultivating and befriending, but never quite understanding a beautiful Rose (Louis Lamson) that grew one day. In an effort to find out what he should make of people the Little Prince traveled amongst the stars meeting all kinds of curious and equally befuddled persons until he came to earth. There, with the help of a friendly fox (Kasey Foster) a sly serpent (Karee Bandealy) and the Aviator himself he might just find the answers he’s been looking for. But true answers are rarely pleasant ones.

Seeing the show again in the capable hands of Lookingglass is like meeting a childhood friend after years apart and trying to find the veins of the person you used to know. I must confess that in its surety and suavity the remount has lost the vulnerability that touched me so deeply, (the Rose is more brazen than the sweet naive creature I remember, and the Fox has developed an adorable but quite python-esque French Accent) but it’s less self conscious now and has been given a whole new set of toys to play with: circus tricks that defy belief and gravity in equal measure (engineered and refined by Sylvia Hernadez-DiStasi of the Actors Gym). And its best qualities: its humor, it’s virtue, and best of all it’s surety (usually lacking in most productions) that it will hold our interest because its a story that needs telling, still shine as bright now as they did then .

Best of all, it still has all of the old Magic. That dune, which doubles as a folded sheet of drawing paper (courtesy of Courtney O’Neill), still curls above our heads both blank and filled with possibility. That corner off to the side where the ensemble goes to score the show to sing the song of the stars and the sunset, and knit together the Rose’s song (which in the two years since is nested in my ear has kept me safe and sane in the dark hollow of the night, and will probably do so until the day I die). As well as the thousand other little impossibilities transformed into living fact by strong wills, strong bodies, our our desire to go deeper into this glimmering world. We don’t care if we can see the wires, the gears, the ensemble members whetting their reeds. We don’t care if a leaf of tissue paper serves as a grufa of water, or a lowering Par serves as the evil eye of the Sun. It all adds up to a greater wonder, a part of all storytelling that is rarely so well defined: “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly. What is essential is invisible to the eye.”

The cast, though more “performative” than I previously recall, have slid into their rolls like otters to water. Barford is full thrumming with urgency, first to get his plane fixed and out of the dreadful situation and then on the much more important matter of seeing the Prince’s story to the end. Hefferon masterfully captures the levity and the weight, the light heartedness and the world weariness of the dear Little Prince, taking in and sharing the lessons about live and death, love and friendship that get so unnecessarily complicated. If anyone was ever born to take up the mantle of this old Peter Pan, this young Yoda, it is her. Foster, in spite of the ridiculous accent, has completely embodied the restless, playful energy of the fennec fox in every little hand scratch and nose wrinkle.

Bandealy too has carefully sculpted himself into the sinewy movements of a snake, right down to the tongue flicker and the gimlet gaze. Really all of the ensemble are first rate turning out dozens of fully physically realized, vocally vibrant, and unforgettable charters, though I think the Geographer (Raymond Fox) takes the cake for inventiveness because...well... you’ll have to see the show.

Dangnabbit. Looking back over all I’ve written I still find that I am in no way able to convey the love I carry for this show. It’s Tamed me, tied me to it Fast and Yarr, but still it gives me know handle to brag about it. And, like it’s former incarnation, it will soon be gone, leaving me nothing with a program, a ticket stub and some choice memories (and not too many of those). Like the Little Prince himself, it will have given me so much insight and so much joy and then disappear as though it never was. But there is nothing sad about this. It WAS here,it DID happen, and who knows, maybe it will come back someday. Still for the moment, dear reader, pray turn your head and allow this old curmudgeon some not-quite tears, and a face a-wrinkled in joyful sorrow. “One runs the risk of weeping when allows one’s self to be tamed.”

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