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.

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