By: Tim Treanor and Valeria Lamarra
Haroun and the Sea of Stories Theater Alliance
L to R: Ian leValley and Carlos Bustamante Credit: Colin Hovde
Haroun and the Sea of Stories is a children’s play, adapted from a children’s novel by the great Salman Rushdie. I am a 55-year old lawyer. Should I be reviewing this play?
I don’t think so. Children possess an imaginative faculty which is gone by adulthood. What might seem jejune or threadbare to an adult may hit the motherload of excitement or satisfaction to a kid.
If you doubt me, watch a gaggle of kids playing with an empty packing box. If you ever catch a bunch of theater critics doing the same thing, let me know, and I will withdraw my claim.
Until then, it is my belief that children are better judges of children’s theater productions than are adult critics. Therefore, for this play I have subcontracted my reviewing responsibilities to Valeria Lamarra, an interesting 11-year-old of my acquaintance notable for her good judgment and command of the language. Valeria is also familiar with performance needs and values, being herself (among other things) a circus unicyclist.
Valeria, take it away:
This is a very nice show. Not only is it a good show for kids but it has a deeper message, about how children and parents love and can miss each other. Salman Rushdie wrote it while he was under a fatwa and he was in hiding. He had to be separated from his son at this time and it must have been very sad for him. Even though there is great sadness in the story, there is much comedy as well. (You can’t have a children’s show without comedy.)It is the story of a young girl, Haroun (Anu Yavid), who saves her father’s career. Her father, Rashid (Ian LeValley), was a storyteller, but he became sad and
couldn’t tell stories. The reason he was sad was that his wife Soraya (Erica Chamblee) left him. Worse, after Rashid lost his wife, Haroun became angry with him and said, “What’s the point of telling stories that aren’t even true?” And after that he couldn’t tell his stories any more.
But telling stories was his whole life. Without being able to tell stories, Rashid was no longer special. So in order to help her father find the source of his inspiration, Haroun travels all the way to an alternate world which has two cities, totally opposite to each other. She discovers that the sea of stories, where all stories come from, is itself in danger. She joins forces with magical creatures and fights deadly enemies who have even greater magical powers. In order to free the sea of stories, she has to concentrate so hard it brings light to a city of darkness.
This is a complex story, but not a confusing one. Both the sad things and the funny parts were very clear and easy to understand. I have four sisters, ages from five to seventeen, and I believe they would all thoroughly enjoy it.
For one thing, the actors were convincing, and the story itself was very interesting. I liked Ms. Chamblee, who played a lot of roles, and was happy and sad and everything in between. Ms. Yadev as Haroun was a mix of emotions, but each one was clear and understandable and convincing. Butt the Hoopoe (Carlos Bustamante) delivered his punch lines at exactly the right moment. I also liked Mikal Evans as the page, Blabbermouth (who was so much a page that she wore pages out of the book). Ms. Evans was a good acrobat as well as a good actor – she played a girl pretending to be a boy, and I really thought she was a boy until her helmet came off.
There was seating on three sides and all the action was in the middle. The seating was good because no matter where you sat, you had a good view of the action.
The only set was little blocks of wood on the middle of the stage. They never had to turn the lights off to change scenes – they just moved the blocks and we were in a new place. Characters just appeared in Haroun’s world, as if by magic. That’s o.k., because in children’s theater, anything goes. And besides that, the world of stories was sort of magical.
It was a nice touch to have paper lanterns set above the audience. It seemed to bring us into the play more. Most of the characters wore the same costumes throughout the play, but it wouldn’t have made sense to have them change a lot. When they needed to have special costumes, they got good ones – giant rhyming fish, or eggheads whose heads – I would never have thought of this – were inside of real-looking giant hardboiled eggs.
The music was one of the best things in the show, and one of the reasons it should appeal to all kids. It had a strong beat and it seemed to move the play along.
I think people should take kids the show because not only will the kids have fun but the parents will also. The adults were laughing at a lot of things us kids didn’t get. And kids will understand that even if they have to go through difficult times there is always a happy ending to look forward to.
Thanks, Valeria. Actually, after she explained it to me, I would have had to be pretty dense not to appreciate the production. A couple of additional notes: LeValley is absolutely superb as Rashid, and director Kelly Parsley paces the play nicely. The other kids at the show seemed as riveted as did Valeria. Although the play is unquestionably aimed at children, it has meat for adults as well. The script contains ancient cultural references – some as old as the Beatles! And the play’s undercurrent – the inevitable triumph of liberal democratic thinking against oppression and tyranny – will give us solace against the endless night, and isn’t that why we tell stories in the first place?
Theater Alliance presents the Washington Premiere of Haroun and the Sea of Stories
By Salman Rushdie
March 2 – April 2, 2006 H Street Playhouse 1365 H Street, NE Washington, DC
For tickets call 1-800-494-8497 or http://www.theateralliance.com/