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TUCK EVERLASTING at TOY presents some strong moral questions in yet another first-rate production; only two shows left!

THE BASICS: TUCK EVERLASTING, a play by Mark J. Frattaroli based on the book by Natalie Babbitt, presented by Theatre of Youth, directed by Meg Quinn, has only two more public performances, this Saturday and Sunday, February 9 and 10, both at 2 p.m., and both at TOY’s home, the Allendale Theatre, 203 Allen Street. (884.4400). www.theatreofyouth.org Runtime: 90 minutes without intermission Recommended ages 9+

THUMBNAIL SKETCH: We follow 10-year-old Winnie whose mildly adventurous spirit is just beginning to long for something beyond her backyard when she meets the Tucks, in particular the dashing and handsome teenager, Jesse. The Tucks have a secret – long ago, they drank from a spring hidden in the forest behind Winnie’s home; ever since, no one in the family has aged a bit. The Tucks are as charmed by Winnie as she is by them, but they must reveal to her the Tuck family secret. Winnie has several choices to make during the play and at every turn she reveals her pluck, her inner moral code, and her acceptance of others, and at the end she must make one more choice, and it’s a biggie: will she drink from the same spring and join the Tucks? Or will she return to her own family and live a normal life bound by the laws of time?

THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: TUCK EVERLASTING, the play that is currently at Theatre of Youth, is based on the 1975 children’s novel written by Natalie Babbitt. Like the Tuck family, the TUCK concept certainly has staying power, reportedly having sold over 5 million copies of the book, and having been adapted into two feature films, one released in 1981 produced in Buffalo as well as a Disney version in 2002, and in 2015 it was further adapted into a musical which had a short run on Broadway. The current play was written in 1991 when Mark Frattaroli turned his mother-in-law’s book into a stage play.

(Speaking of staying power, while the novel turns 44 this year, Theatre of Youth is celebrating its 47th season!)

Well, it worked wonders for HAMILTON, the Metropolitan Opera used it for seamless productions of Bizet’s CARMEN and Verdi’s IL TROVATORE, and now the Theatre of Youth audiences are enjoying the magic of a large rotating stage on yet another wonderful set by Ken Shaw. As the stage slowly revolves it creates a sensation of movement, as when a horse and buggy move along, but it also depicts the passage of time and seasons, and, best of all, it simply gets the next scene’s scenery in place without any pause in the action.

The Tuck family in this production was marvelously cast.

The Tuck family in this production was marvelously cast, with Priscilla Young-Anker so believably as Mae (think “Ma”) Tuck, quirky Gerry Maher as the kindly, accepting patriarch Angus Tuck, Zachary Bellus as the attractive (but at this point in Winnie’s life only platonically) teenager Jesse Tuck, and Nick Stevens, who is marvelously cast as Jesse’s older, more philosophical, brother Miles Tuck.

Sabrina Kahwaty is gaining a strong reputation for her ability to play a child on stage and her Winnie is very present and believable, and just as convincing was Joy Scime as her grandmother. Dan Greer has the gravitas to play “The Constable” but in a kindly, non-threatening way.

I was not happy with the role of “The Stranger in the Yellow Suit” as played by Larry Smith. There are some serious plot points that depend on the audience feeling very strong negative emotions about that character, and here he came across as little more than an over-zealous real-estate investor. Perhaps I’m suffering from the current wave of polarization in society, but I want my “bad guys” to be really, really bad.

Perhaps not a quibble, but an observation: I noticed that the young audience grew restless during the scenes with extended dialog. As long as there was obvious action, and even if the actors were sitting (paddling a canoe, eating breakfast) there was quiet, but during the times of “plant and rant” or “scenery chewing” the restive murmur of young voices rose. Of course, this could all be part of TOY’s mission to introduce children to the theater, which proceeds differently (thank goodness) from the frenetic pace of kid’s otherwise electronic world.

There is a ‘talk back’ Q&A after EVERY show, which begins with the actors explaining some of the on-stage magic.

Another quibble was the sound level and audio quality of the (I’m assuming) pre-recorded narrator, who sets up each major time progression, as in “The first week of August hangs at the very top of summer, like the highest seat of a Ferris Wheel when it pauses in its turning.”  Compared to the excellent (not always the case in Buffalo but they are at TOY) body mics of the actors, the narrator sounded “phoned in.”

But, these are minor quibbles in light of the overall tour-de-force of direction, staging, set and costume design, lighting, and sound design, and, of course, the most visible part to audiences, the acting. And, if you don’t know, there is a “talk back” Q&A after EVERY show, which begins with the actors explaining some of the on-stage magic (“Is that real water in the pond?” “Is that fish real?”) and then answering a variety of questions as Artistic Director Meg Quinn roams the audience with her hand-held mic.

Most of the children who see this production will be bused in over many, many days of shows, but, if your child is not going to see this through his or her school, I would make an effort to attend one of the only two remaining shows open to the public.

Lead image courtesy Theatre of Youth

UP NEXT: THE JUNGLE BOOK, another children’s classic that has enjoyed a variety of treatments, including two Disney movies, March 16 to April 7, recommended ages 6+ (note: Sensory Friendly performance March 24) and DRAGONS LOVE TACOS (tagline: “When mom is away, don’t let dragons in to play!”) May 4 – June 1, recommended ages 4+.

Theatre of Youth also offers a number of workshops for children, with over a half dozen more this season, and while many are one day events, the next one called “Outside the TOY Box” designed for students in Grades 3-6 coincides with many winter breaks, Monday Feb. 18th – Friday Feb. 22nd, from 1PM – 4PM each day, held not in the theater, but at WESTMINSTER PARISH HALL, 724 DELAWARE AVENUE, BUFFALO, NY 14209 where “Kids will spend afternoons ‘Outside of the Box’ at our first Winter Break week long workshop! Miss Melinda, who has a strong background in clowning and mime, challenges children to explore the many ways to express themselves emotionally and artistically. Using theatre and circus based activities, children will activate their inner performer.” To see all of the childrent’s workshops, and to enroll, visit www.theatreofyouth.org.

*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)

ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.

TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.

THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.

FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.

FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!

Written by Peter Hall

Peter Hall

Peter Hall continues trying to figure out how "it" all works. For 20 years, as program host on Classical 94.5 WNED and continuing on-stage with the Buffalo Chamber Music Society, he's conducted over 1,000 interviews with artists as he asks them to explain, in layman's terms, "what's the big picture here?"

As mentioned recently in Buffalo Spree magazine, Peter's "Buffalo Rising reviews are the no-holds barred 'everyman's' take." And, on “Theater Talk” (heard Friday mornings at 6:45 and 8:45 a.m. on WBFO 88.7 FM and Saturday afternoons at 5:55 p.m. on Classical 94.5 WNED) his favorite question of co-host Anthony Chase is simply "What's goin' on?"

A member of Buffalo's Artie Awards Committee, Peter holds a B.A. in Comparative Literature from Columbia University and an M.B.A. from SUNY at Buffalo. For over twenty-five years he has been an adjunct professor for Canisius College’s Richard J. Wehle School of Business.

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