Horns – Film Review

Horns poster

If there truly is a hell on Earth then Ignatius ‘Ig’ Perrish (Daniel Radcliffe) lives at the center of it.   It’s one thing to be in heavenly bliss if you feel you’ve met your soul mate, it’s another to lose her, knowing she was brutally murdered and to live a life of hellish torment when accused of her death.

This is what happens in Horns, the new and somewhat bizarre fantasy/horror with dark comic undertones from director Alexendra Aja, based on the popular Joe Hill novel of the same name.   Hill’s book took place in New Hampshire but the film switches coasts to the Pacific Northwest, intentionally evoking images, no doubt, of those same cinematic misty mountains and occasionally damp country lanes of Twilight.

The only thing that mattered was her,” explains Ig in a voice-over at the beginning when we see the young man and the love of his life Merrin (Juno Temple) in happier times.   “I’m gonna love you for the rest of my life,” Ig tells Merrin, his loving eyes looking as misty as the northwest mountains themselves.

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Then it happens.   Merrin is murdered and left overnight in some woods nearby.   Because witnesses saw the young couple arguing at a nearby diner that evening, Ig is naturally the suspect.   “How does it feel to get away with murder?” a local TV reporter demands as Ig tries to make his way through town.   Only Ig’s parents appear to have sympathy.   “Don’t talk to reporters,” dad (James Remar) advises his son.   “They’ll just twist it around.”   And dad’s right.   The local newspaper prints a picture of Ig on its cover under the headline, Is This The Face Of The Devil?

Then something even stranger happens.   In a drunken rage, after angrily smashing religious figurines and urinating on lighted candles around a makeshift memorial for the murdered young girl, Ig wakes up to find he’s sprouted a pair of horns; not just a couple of nasty bruises protruding up on his forehead but a genuine pair of goat-like horns making him appear something like a confused, devilish wood nymph but without the forked tail.   And there’s something else.   When anyone is near Ig they can’t help but feel compelled to confess their innermost, darkest secrets.   When Ig runs to the doctor to find out what’s happened to him, the woman sitting next to him in the waiting room suddenly declares, “I’d like to kill my daughter and her spoiled ass!

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Not only that, but Ig develops the ability to make others do whatever he wants them to do simply by a force of suggestion.   When a group of reporters continue to hound him with one overly ambitious female reporter telling him, “Hey, confess and I get out of stupid local news,” Ig faces them all and offers a challenge:  Beat each other up and whoever remains standing will be the one to get an exclusive.   Without question, the reporters turn and proceed to kick the hell out of each other while Ig calmly walks away.

With Ig, Radcliffe is doing his best to distance himself from Harry Potter, though with the film’s unmistakable echoes of Twilight, the story’s supernatural element and the similar young adult target audience, creating that distance remains an uphill battle.   However, Radcliffe is nothing if not game, as proven with other more recent releases, and here the young star of Potter sheds as much of that teenage innocence as possible, not to mention how well the British actor’s American accent is developing, which here sounds more authentic than ever.

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Religious and sacrilegious imagery abounds.   In a flashback, when a young Merrin first attracts Ig’s attention in church she does so by reflecting light from the cross hanging around her neck.   The diner where Ig and Merrin argue is known as Eve’s Diner with the name emblazoned in yellow across a huge neon lit red, golden delicious., and when Ig emerges from the billowing smoke of a local bar on fire it’s as if the gates of hell have opened and Ig is passing through.   Plus, I’m not sure if the victim’s name of Merrin was intentionally meant to remind us of the experienced devil fighting priest in The Exorcist, but it is there.

There’s a lot of good, dark humor in the earlier scenes as the town’s inhabitants willingly reveal their thoughts to Ig and act on their base emotions, but things get nastier as the story continues and blood splatters more forcefully than required.   Heather Graham as the waitress in Eve’s diner is particularly good as she gleefully reveals her desire for fame and the length she will go to achieve it.   “I wanna be a star,” she declares while reveling in thoughts of the endless pleasure fame will bring while showing complete disregard for the pain she’ll cause others in order to achieve it.   Plus, there’s a funny payoff to that earlier scene of the press beating on each other when later we catch a glimpse of one of those reporters doing her job live on TV, her face covered in band-aids and bruises.

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But there’s a fundamental issue with the plot that sticks out like the horns on Ig’s forehead and once it occurs to you, you can never shake it free.   When Ig discovers what he can do without effort – compel a person to tell the truth and do whatever he suggests – why doesn’t he calmly compose himself then compel those guilty of being a false witness, not to mention the actual murderer, and tell them all to go to the police and confess their crimes?   We know they couldn’t stop themselves.   Case solved and the innocence of Ig restored.   But no.  Characters shout, argue and fight, and Ig can never stop his young man emotions getting in the way of logical action.   And while it’s all sick fun in the first half as the impossible situation establishes itself, the second half and all its grisliness just feels bad.

Plus, consider this:  Only in Hollywood would an actor as good looking as Kelli Garner with all that obvious sex appeal around her be cast as a barmaid considered to be so unattractive that men need to be drunk before sleeping with her.   The fantasy of Horns can suspend your disbelief only so far.

MPAA Rating:  R   Length:  123 Minutes    Overall Rating:  7 (out of 10)

Posted in Film

Nightcrawler – Film Review

Nightcrawler poster

There’s a fundamental difference between the presentation of the national news on TV and the local.   It’s not that one covers political and international occurrences while the other centers on what happened around the corner, it’s both content and tone.

First, local news is not the nearby equivalent of the national.   National might cover politics in detail.   Generally, local news barely mentions local politics and lawful bills passed unless there’s a mouth-watering scandal attached.   National leads its broadcast with whatever is considered the most important story of the moment, often whether there’s video or not.   With local, according to Bill Paxton’s independent video cameraman Joe Loder in the new drama Nightcrawler,  “If it bleeds, it leads.”

Before anyone gets upset and jumps to the defense of local broadcasters, bear in mind that Nightcrawler takes place in the one city where the ability for local television to cover crime, criminal activity, not to mention car wrecks, stabbings, and rapes is considerably more opportunistic than say, Raleigh, North Carolina.   To the rest of the country, Los Angeles at night seems rife with something dramatic that can always open the late-night broadcast.   When news director Nina (Rene Russo) of the lowest rated, late-night local news program in L.A. explains to new guy Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) what she’s looking for in a video recording, she says, “Think of news as a screaming woman running down the road with her throat cut.”   That’s a ratings grabber for sure and goes a long way to illustrating why local TV isn’t always the reliable source of important local information even though it promotes itself as being one.   Like an accident seen by rubberneckers at the side of the interstate, Nina states, “I want what people can’t turn away from.”

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With it’s R rated story content of rape, abuse, or murder presented magazine-style, complete with close-ups of twisted car metal and edited comments from passers-by who have nothing to do with the story other than they’re willing to give an opinion to the camera, things have arguably developed into what Walter Cronkite once vocally feared; entertainment disguised as news.

Gyllenhaal’s Lou Bloom is as slick as the grease that combs back his hair.   When we first meet him he’s selling stolen copper to a manager on a building site.   When Bloom promotes himself as a quick learner in search of full time employment, the manager tells him, “I’m not hiring a thief.”

One thing is obvious about Bloom.   He’s nuts and definitely a sociopath.   There’s not a lot we learn of his background or what it is that makes him who he is, but Bloom, who admits he’s never had much of a formal education, is clear about his talents.   “You can find anything if you look hard enough,” he states, and buys a video camera and a police scanner and does what he’s seen others do – he chases ambulances and records the aftermath of a car wreck, a crime or even a murder scene, then sells the rough footage to Rene Russo’s late night TV news program.

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As time continues and ratings rise, Bloom becomes adept with his newly chosen career as an independent video recorder of L.A.’s underbelly, filming news we don’t always need to know but what we’ve become conditioned to accept.   With the aid of a hired assistant, Bloom is continually trying to beat his opponents by getting to the scene first and scooping the competition.   When a close-up is no longer good enough, Bloom’s not above either dragging a bloodied body closer to the vehicle for the convenience of a tight shot or even manufacturing a crime in order to film the police gunfire as it unfolds.

Nightcrawler doesn’t exactly lift the lid on local TV news or even tell us things that we don’t already know, yet it does bring us closer to the types and attitudes of those who run the news and goes a long way to showing how fear for ratings is sold.   Russo’s news director may go to the extreme in order to make her program rise head and shoulders above the others in that late night slot, and her attitude along with Bloom’s behavior might seem abhorrent, but there’s certainly truth behind the extremities, made all the more effective by convincing performances from all principle leads.   In many ways, calling the film Nightcrawler and releasing it in and around Halloween is not altogether inappropriate; what the film is portraying is horrorific.

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If you travel around the country and watch local television, you’ll see many of those same interchangeable catch phrases attached to the broadcast, as in Telling It Like It Is or News You Need To Know, and they’re fine and make sense in terms of TV marketing and promotions, but there’s a more disturbing trend developing in some markets that uses the more insidious slogan Keeping You Safe.   If that’s not a blatant case of peddling the notion of fear, what is?   And in case you’re thinking, well, yeah, I get it, but Nightcrawler is still just a film and people don’t really act like that, consider this:  More than twenty-five years ago while attending the house-party of a local TV news anchor, a cameraman I knew turned up late.   He explained his tardiness was due to his videoing of a car wreck for the late evening edition and he was beaming because he’d ‘got the shot.’   When asked what he meant, he actually said, “If it bleeds, it leads.

MPAA Rating:  R   Length:  117 Minutes   Overall Rating:  8 (out of 10)

 

Posted in Film

Camp X-Ray – Film Review

Camp poster

The first concern of every parent when their son or daughter enters the military is where will they be stationed?   War torn Afghanistan, perhaps?   Iraq?   Army private fist class Amy Cole (Kristen Stewart) is sent to neither.   In the new drama Camp X-Ray, Cole’s assignment is to be a guard at Guantanamo Bay detention camp.

At the film’s opening we see the now familiar sight of the World Trade Center buildings on fire viewed from the point of view of a TV news report.   After that, three men – future detainees – wearing hoods and noise reducing head phones are shipped by air to what will be their future home for a lengthy, indefinite period; Camp Delta.   From there we jump forward eight years when a routine at the camp has long been established.   A new batch of army recruits land on Guantanamo, ready for their assignment.

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You are not here to stop them from escaping,” Corporal Ransdell (Lane Garrison) explains to the newbies shortly after they first arrive, pointing out that the walls of the camp do that part of the job for them.   “You are here to prevent them from dying.”   He goes on to explain that the detainees are never to be called prisoners.   Prisoners are subject to the Geneva Convention; detainees are not.   “You can talk to them, but do not let them know anything about you,” the corporal continues.   “Do not let them get into your head.”

As the film slowly unfolds, PFC Cole’s duties on her extensive shifts range from walking from cell to cell, peering in through the small windows to make sure each detainee is where they should be, to handing out library books to help the detainees pass the endless hours of boredom.   When Cole offers a book to one certain detainee and is spat upon, her corporal dismisses it.   “These guys don’t like girls,” he explains.   “It’s an Arab thing.”

It’s when Cole reaches the cell of detainee Ali Amir (an expressive and ultimately sympathetic Payman Maadi) that a conversation begins.   Cole is reticent to enter into any kind of communication beyond what book the detainee would like to read, but Ali – starved of any form of interaction with others – asks question after question in order to get the young private to talk.

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Ali wants the final Harry Potter novel.   He’s read all the others and wants to know how the saga ends, but it’s the one book absent from the library’s limited collection.   From there, a questionable relationship develops, reminiscent in some ways of how Hannibal Lechter might have slyly communicated with the next generation Clarice Starling, here made all the more obvious by a direct Lechter reference not to mention that movie buffs may remember it was Stewart who played Jodie Foster’s daughter in Panic Room.

No one gives you a medal when you do it right,” Cole’s corporal reminds the young recruit.   “You get a demotion if you get it wrong.”   And with each conversation Cole exchanges with the persistent Ali, the newbie crawls closer to getting it potentially wrong.

As written by writer/direct Peter Sattler, Camp X-Ray slowly unfolds in the manner of a two-person play, a one-act drama perhaps where the detainee may be the one incarcerated in a cramped, confined area, but from his point of view when looking through that small window at the private on the other side, in her way Cole appears to be just as confined.

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The relationship takes its toll on Cole in small ways.   Babysitting detainees is in all probability not what she joined the military to do, but being there, seeing these people incarcerated, continually deprived of sleep, day after day, week after week, and year after endless year with no end in sight, causes the private to reflect on these Muslims in a way she had presumably never before considered.

Kristen Stewart has to be commended for tackling such an unglamorous role a she begins a new phase of her career away from the glamor of the Twilight saga.   The seemingly emotionless front her character has to intentionally project works in the performer’s favor, but in her off-duty moments in scenes where she Skypes with her mom (Julia Duffy) or exchanges conversation with fellow recruits, that impassive exterior doesn’t appear to change all that much and you can’t help wondering what a more experienced actor might have done with the same script under the same direction.

The issue with Stewart is in the eyes.   Her character may have that dark, sunken look indicating weariness and someone bordering on becoming haunted but the eyes themselves are empty.   With the benefit of close-ups and the ability to see a performer as intimately as the screen allows, acting with just a glance can convey the kind of emotion that words and actions can’t always express.   At this point with Stewart there’s still nothing there, but at the very least we should salute her for trying.   As it stands, with a running time of almost two hours, in a film where your interest has to be maintained by the performances of the two principle leads and only one convinces, Camp X-Ray remains something less than compelling.

MPAA Rating:  R   Length:  117 Minutes    Overall Rating:  5 (out of 10)

Posted in Film

Annie Get Your Gun – Theatre Review: Spotlight Youth Theatre, Peoria

Annie poster

Since it first opened on Broadway in 1946, the Irving Berlin musical Annie Get Your Gun has gone through so many revisions that it’s now difficult to say exactly what the definitive version is.   Over the years, songs have been removed then added again, sub plots have either changed or removed altogether and even characters have altered relationships with other characters.

In the 1999 Broadway revival that gave Bernadette Peters the leading role, everything was altered and revamped once again.   Instead of playing the musical straight, the production became a show-within-a-show setting the story of Annie Oakley under Colonel Buffalo Bill’s big top traveling circus and acted out by the circus performers, each taking on a character needed to tell Annie’s story.   Gone were a couple of politically incorrect songs considered to be insensitive to Native Americans replaced with moments that were cut from the show during the sixties, including some grand dance numbers, the love affair sub-plot between Winnie and Tommy and the changing of relationships between Winnie and Dolly.   Winnie was previously Dolly’s daughter, but in the 1999 revival, Winnie became Dolly’s younger sister; and it’s this 1999 grand slam, colorful big top production that Spotlight Youth Theatre is presenting on its home stage in Peoria.

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Even though many have considered the song There’s No Business Like Show Business to be from the Marylin Monroe movie, it actually originated from Annie Get Your Gun, and in this revival it’s the song that opens the show.   Michael Schulz, last seen as Riff in Valley Youth Theatre’s West Side Story at Herberger Center downtown, kicks off the proceedings as a circus performer who will go on to play the part of Frank Butler.   It’s Michael that introduces the show, opening with There’s No Business Like Show Business, and it plays to Michael’s strength.   The young actor possesses one of the best voices in the production and it’s as Frank Butler singing these wonderful Irving Berlin songs that Michael is given the opportunity throughout to show audiences what he can do.

Briefly, for those unfamiliar, Annie Get Your Gun is a fictionalized account of some real life characters who joined Buffalo Bill’s Wild West traveling show.   Annie became a famous showbiz sharpshooter and developed a romance with the show’s other sharpshooter, Frank Butler.   As the musical version of Annie (Carly Makani Copp) proudly states with glee at her own abilities, “I can shoot anything standin’ on my head singing Swanee River.”   What follows is the romantic rivalry between Annie and Frank supported by a secondary love story with problems of its own between young Winnie (a hugely likable Ali Whitwell) and part Native American, Tommy (a perfectly cast Jacob Herrera).

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As presented in the intimate Spotlight theatre, this production of Annie Get Your Gun is a rousing, tuneful musical, bursting with the kind of energy that gives the ensemble players plenty of opportunity to shine.  As is often the case with large, Broadway shows, Annie boats a cast too numerous to name, but as before, director Kenny Grossman has found plenty of solid young actors to take the principle leads.   Lyssa Horney as Winnie’s conniving older sister Dolly gives a powerhouse performance echoing the grand tradition of Ethel Merman; she doesn’t need a mic to be heard.   Taylor Bader injects energy and a certain mustache twirling relish as Charlie Davenport, the manager of the Wild West show, while David Samson’s Buffalo Bill Cody draws attention by default; he’s tall and imposing, just as Buffalo Bill should be, and due to his elaborate costume and wig takes center stage every time he enters.

But it’s the central role of Annie Oakley where a production of Annie Get Your Gun either works or fails, and Spotlight has struck a theatrical coup with the casting of Carly Makani Copp.   Carly, last scene as a support in Arizona Broadway Theatre’s recent large scale production of Peter Pan, is back on the Spotlight stage, only this time she’s awarded the opportunity to showcase her talents as a singer, dancer and actor in scene after scene, and Carly doesn’t disappoint: She runs with it.   She doesn’t just perform songs, she sells them, never breaking character, and it’s here as Annie where Carly displays the kind of abilities required of someone who with time, hard work and the right amount of luck may well join the ranks of previous valley talents who went on to become future valley professionals.

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Occasionally, lines are lost due to some performers delivering their dialog in a natural, conversational manner rather than projecting to the back row – they should all take lessons from Lyssa Horney on how to do it right – plus a couple of performers appeared to lag behind when singing to the recorded music, perhaps missing a cue here and there and having to play catch-up, but generally, the Sunday matinee performance that this reviewer attended ran smoothly and without any noticeable hiccups.   Madison Macdonald’s stirring choreography was sharply performed by a proficient cast, and who can’t warm to those wonderful Irving Berlin songs when sung by such capable voices?

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For more regarding times, dates and tickets CLICK HERE for the Spotlight Youth Theatre website.

Posted in Theatre

Seminar – Theatre Review: Actors Theatre of Phoenix: Black Theatre Troupe

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When four hopeful writers in New York with varying degrees of talent club together and pay $5,000 each for a ten-week writing seminar, no one gets what they paid for.   That’s the basis of the very funny 2011 Broadway comedy Seminar by Theresa Rebeck.   It’s the one that earned Alan Rickman high praise and was generally well received by New York area critics, plus it’s also the play with which Actors Theatre of Phoenix has chosen to open its exciting new 2014-15 season.

No longer the wandering Nomads of the valley, Actors Theatre has finally pitched tent in the excellent Black Theatre Troupe building on Washington Street which is where it will now remain, and that’s a major plus.   Not only is the theatre an outstanding setting for any play, the comfortable, stadium style seating guarantees a good view no matter where you sit, plus that sense of intimacy and the feeling of a real interaction with the players – something only a live performance can give – is always present.

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The setting is the luxury Upper West Side apartment of Kate (Kerry McCue).   This is where the other three aspiring talents will gather, subject to the derision and the criticism of the paid professor, Leonard (David Barker).   And Leonard never holds back.   “What a soul-sucking waste of words that was!” Leonard declares of Kate’s story, the one that has taken her six years to complete.   It has taken her six years because everyone kept telling her it was good but that it needed more work; so for six years she kept working on it, and within seconds, Leonard, in his customary style of non-diplomacy, destroys it along with Kate’s already fragile confidence.

With Douglas (Andy Cahoon), Leonard sees something resembling potential talent, though he’s not quite there; not yet.   Douglas has something of a head start;  he’s the nephew of a Harvard playwright, plus he’s already achieved moderate publishing success, but none of that matters to Leonard.   “The work is hollow,” the professor tells Douglas.   “I’d think about Hollywood.”

Then there’s Izzy (Kim Richard) the buxom blonde whose attractiveness and overtly sexual manner is something she unashamedly uses in order to keep moving forward to that ultimate goal of getting published.   Leonard likes the energy in her writing as well as a few of her other talents.

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Martin (Will Hightower) is Kate’s old school friend and it’s probable that he’s the real talent in the room, except no one will ever know as he’s either too shy or too scared to read any of his work aloud.   Martin is also broke and temporarily moves in to one of Kate’s spare rooms, then shares it with the lusty Izzy for a few weeks of mind-blowing sex until it’s revealed that she’s also been sleeping with the professor.   When Martin accuses Izzy of lying to him about her time with Leonard, Izzy defends with, “It wasn’t much of a lie.   No one believed it but you.

And finally there’s Leonard himself;  the savage, literary monster who slices and dices almost everything presented before him, though surprises when he praises something he feels might be of worth.   When he exits the room until the next seminar he often departs with, “See you next week, cowards,” or “I’m going to Somalia tomorrow, so I’ll see you pussies in two weeks.”   “Maybe someone’ll shoot him,” Kate dryly suggests after Leonard is out of earshot.

Playwright Theresa Rebeck’s script is razor sharp.   Her dialog gives individual voice to each person where the rhythm and style of all five characters becomes familiar as the play progresses.   Close your eyes and without knowing the voice you’d know which student was speaking by the use of words and the style of delivery.   Though sometimes there are shortcuts.

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It never rings true how quickly Professor Leonard can sum up a complete opinion on a writer’s work and rant in grand style about it after giving the essay only a perfunctory glance, plus considering that the play is about writers and revels in the use – and occasionally the misuse – of wordplay, it’s surprising that much of Rebeck’s clever dialog is peppered with the continual use of such extreme bad language delivered at a TV sit-com style fever pitch.   In fact, the play’s volume often feels in danger of hitting eleven when it should have stopped at ten.   It doesn’t take long for everyone to start shouting, especially once Leonard has entered the room and the profanities hit the fan.

But Rebeck also gives us great lines to quote, ranging from a twist on the familiar – “I would say get a room,” Kate suggests, regarding the marathon copulating habits of Izzy and Martin, “But they already have a room” – to the eloquence of Leonard’s laugh-out-loud description of what he can see the planets in the cosmos do while Izzy performs oral sex on him.

The doubts, the fears and the power play of all are well presented by a terrific ensemble under director Ron May’s guidance.   Each actor establishes his or her character so well so quickly, you might find yourself smiling at something you expect one of them to say in advance of them actually saying it.   Jeff Thomson’s excellent scenic design of Kate’s blinding white and somewhat spacious New York apartment contrasts well with the final scene that takes us to Leonard’s dark brown and cramped quarters.

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Running at a non-stop 100 minutes without intermission and sharp scene transitions that never slow the flow, Rebeck’s Seminar may not be quite the challenging comedy of intellectual wordplay you expected after the earlier Broadway hype, but it’s still great fun and more importantly it’s a promise of the standard of what is yet to come from Actors Theatre of Phoenix at its new, permanent home at Black Theatre Troupe.

For more regarding times, dates and tickets, CLICK HERE for the Actors Theatre website.

Posted in Theatre

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane – Theatre Review: Childsplay, Tempe

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Despite the fact that Kate DiCamillo’s 2006 novel The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane was voted by the School Library Journal as being in the ‘Top 100 Chapter Books’ of all time, this award-winning story should be on the shelves of every classroom in the country, but isn’t.

Making a return visit to the Tempe Center for the Arts is the Childsplay production of Edward Tulane and what a miraculous journey it is.   Take a look at the book, then compare with Childsplay’s Dwayne Hartford’s faithful adaptation and you’ll see; The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane isn’t simply a scriptwriters version of an acclaimed novel, it’s a book made manifest;  it comes alive before your eyes and sweeps you up into the warmth and comfort of its arms in the way young Sarah Ruth will later lovingly hold the china doll she calls Jangles but we know as Edward Tulane.

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But make no mistake, it won’t be all warmth and comfort.   There are lessons to be learned, changes to discover, adventures to be had, and by the time Edward’s journey finally brings him full circle, there’s a good chance we’ll see not only a change in the thoughts of a china toy rabbit but perhaps in ourselves, as well.

It is the 1930’s.   Edward Tulane is the name given to a china rabbit by a young girl called Abilene.   The rabbit can neither speak nor move.   He simply sits there and listens, but there is one thing Edward can do:  he can think and we can hear his thoughts.   When we first meet Edward we can tell from what he’s thinking he’s a little on the vain side.   “Somehow, I make the pinstripes work, don’t I,” he proclaims with self-admiration when admiring the new clothes Abilene has him dressed in.   It’s a comfortable existence for Edward, but an unfortunate occurrence while on vacation on the RMS Queen Mary results with the pain of separation as the rabbit falls overboard followed by a lengthy time alone on the ocean floor until a fisherman scoops him up, out of the water.   And so begins Edward’s long journey that takes him not only far from home but also far away from the somewhat self-centered rabbit that he might have remained.

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Presented on a stage with a revolving platform at its center and backed by a curved, cyclorama type screen upon which clouds, a blue sky and glittering, nighttime stars among other images are projected, Edward Tulane is performed by four outstanding performers, not to mention the one inanimate object, who together somehow create the impression of a cast of many.   When Katie McFadzen turns away from narrating then dons a shawl for her shoulders, adopts an elderly walk and changes her voice, she doesn’t simply impersonate a different character, the moment becomes something akin to the illusion of a magician’s trick;  it’s as if Katie has made a thorough transformation and become someone different in an instant before our eyes.   And so it is with the rest of the cast.

Debra K. Stevens, last seen as Charlotte in the delightful Childsplay production of Charlotte’s Web, here becomes several of the characters who will embrace the rabbit on its journey of discovery, including young Abilene who first possesses the doll, to the ailing Sarah Ruth who holds Edward with all the love and affection her failing heart can muster.   But it’s as Lucy the hobo’s dog where Debra appears to have the most fun.   Adding nothing other than a brown, woolen hat to her everyday costume, with excitable body movements and a constant wag of an imaginary tail, Debra embodies the playful exuberance of a loving dog so remarkably well, blink and you’ll believe there’s a real canine up there on the stage. When Edward is tossed from a train, it’s Lucy’s howls as she turns on the revolving stage, moving farther away from the fallen rabbit that will break your heart.

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Like Katie and Debra, David Dickinson changes from character to character with that same remarkable ability to become someone different in an instant, employing little more than a change of accent and a move to his stance as he morphs from a friendly fisherman to a likable hobo, plus the play also gives David the opportunity of displaying his talent with the harmonica and the violin.

At the center is Kyle Sorrell as the voice of Edward.   Even though it’s the china doll we see either sitting on the edge of the revolving stage, hanging from a pole as if he was a scarecrow, or being tossed around – a victim of the cruelty of others – it’s Kyle’s voice and his physical presence as he stands observing the action and commenting on what Edward thinks and feels that adds flesh and bone to the immobile rabbit.  So successful are the actors with creating the illusion of watching a long parade of illuminating characters before us that when all four performers take their bow at the end you may wonder for just a second, where’s everybody else?

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David Saar’s assured direction keeps Edward Tulane moving at a brisk pace throughout as the ever touching story takes us from Abilene’s house on Egypt street, to the liner, the bottom of the ocean, on a train ride across country, a diner, and eventually back to where it all began but with a difference.   There will be moments when your heart will both soar with the magic of what great theatre can create – and this is quite simply great theatre – and break with the heartache of loss and loneliness.   Watching this magical production come alive before you is not only a wonderful way to be entertained, it’s a privilege.   I can’t make this any simpler: you have to see The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane.

For more regarding times, dates and tickets, CLICK HERE for the Childsplay official website.

Posted in Theatre