It occurred to me that just walking into the 24th Street Theatre gives me a glow of happiness. It began when I pulled into the parking lot and forked over five bucks to a gracious teenager in a 24th Street Theatre t-shirt. Abundant, genuine, smiling teen staffers similarly garbed greeted us at the door and directed us to the box office, where, when I identified myself, a young woman was expecting me. I like a cup of coffee before a show to insure my alertness, and the young person at the concession stand told me that the coffee was a what-you-will donation. I gave her two bucks, like I do at Odyssey. When the house opened, I made my way to the third row where my name was pinned on two seats on the aisle. Executive Producer Jay McAdams was right there and greeted me by name and welcomed me back. It was then I realized that it had been too long between visits.
The 24th Street Theatre is a place where superior theatrical art takes place with a view of giving young people a joyous experience. It is not a children’s theatre per se, but a place deeply embedded in the surrounding community that provides opportunities through workshops and events for intellectual and artistic enrichment for both youth and their families. The shows are equipped with excellent performers, great scripts, first class designers and musicians, and savvy directors and producers.
Kate DiCamillo’s book, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, is categorized as a “young adult” novel, which seems to me a kind of diminutive term. Don’t forget that the powerful, thrilling Hunger Games series is so labeled, as is Twilight. The point is that these books are excellent literature, regardless of category. I loved them.
Set in the 1930s, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane (adapted for the stage by Dwayne Hartford) tells the tale of a child’s toy rabbit doll, named Edward Tulane by his first young owner, a girl named Abilene. She adores the doll, but Edward, who of course cannot speak, seems indifferent to her affection and displays a kind of hauteur. He is like a spoiled child. His upper class comfort is destroyed when he is lost over board during a voyage of RMS Queen Mary. He languishes on the bottom of the sea for nearly two thirds of a year, when a fisherman hauls him up and takes him home to his wife where he is given the name “Susannah” and, to his chagrin, garbed in a dress. Edward passes through many hands over many years and his experiences teach him love in all its joy and pain.
In the play, Edward is seen on stage as what he is, a doll with a porcelain head, and is carried around by three protean actors. The voice of Edward is rendered with upper-class aplomb and ultimately with great, touching passion by Carlos Larkin as he learns the lessons of the underprivileged. The Traveler (Jennifer Hasty) acts as a kind of Shakespearean chorus voice as well as playing numerous roles, as do Brady Dalton Richards and Rachel Weck. As in any great show there is humor, much of which is served up with terrific physicality and athletic prowess by the nimble Mr. Richards, whose hilarious rendering of the antics of a female dog is worth the price of admission.
Songs are sung throughout, brilliantly, seamlessly scored live by Bradley Brough at the piano. Many of the songs are sad, affective tunes of hardship and loss from the great American folk library of woe. Given the dominant ethnicity of the neighborhood, Spanish supertitles are projected on a screen up left of the action. I glanced at them from time to time, pleased that my small amount of Spanish is still intact.
The house was packed with families and children, some of them very young. Mr. McAdams, in an excellent curtain speech, explained that the company brings a rigorous experience to the young people who participate and that rigor was to be expected in the evening’s performance. Indeed. There is cruelty and death in the show, as well as humor and joy. But it is just a play and not reality that is played out before an audience, which brings to mind the ancient Greek aesthetic of artistic distance, which allows an audience to feel the horrors of tragedy vicariously from a safe distance.
Under the excellent direction of Debbie Devine, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane is impeccably mounted by the first class creative staff of set designer Keith Mitchell; video designer Matthew Hill; lighting designer Dan Weingarten; sound designer Christopher Moscatiello; and costume and doll designer Shannon Kennedy. Brianna Zamora manages the stage with authority.
Produced by Jay McAdams and Jennie McInnis, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, one the best shows running in LA, extends through June 2 at 24th Street Theatre, 1117 West 24th Street in Los Angeles.