Critic Tim Treanor takes on a reviewing partner, Valeria Lamarra
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
Grandma Donna says
Maybe some day you’ll be writing your own articles for publication in different magazines and newspapers across the world. Keep up the good work. Grandma Donna in Indiana
Mary Chesak says
Valeria, All your friends in Rensselaer, Indiana are so proud of you. You have always been talented with words even when you were quite small. Love Grandma
Paula Alprin says
Thankyou, Valeria, for your critique of “HAROUN AND THE SEA OF STORIES”. Seems like you enjoyed writing the review as much as you enjoyed seeing the show! A very good sign (for theaters, too)!
Keep up your interest and enthusiasm! I have a niece who’s thirteen, a niece who’s six and a nephew who just turned your age, and if they didn’t live so far away, I’d let them take me to “HAROUN AND THE SEA OF STORIES”!!
Sincerely, Paula Alprin
Lynne Udalov says
Valeria,, I know that I miss a lot of wonderful productions by not living in the DC area but after reading your review I realize how very interesting and educational plays such as the Haroun are. I hope that all of your sisters had a chance to see it. If they did they probably all had different comments on the story line, the actors, the set and costume design and well just everything! Imagine what your Five year old sister would have to say vs. your Seventeen year old sister! You have some interviewing to do!
Good luck!Aunt Lynne
A most excellent review. You have convinced me I must see this play. I look forward to reading more of your reviews in the future! You are a very insightful young lass!
David Chesak says
Good review, Valeria. You may get comments from family members and friends.
L. L. says
Great job Valeria. I haven’t seem the show yet, but based on your review, I intend to see it with my son. You really have a unique ability to get straight to what is important and let us know what the “feel” of the show is. I feel very confident that the intelligent appraisal of the show you provided is what I need when deciding whether my family will get something out of this show. I wish you worked for one of out local newspapers!
Lina Liberace says
Excellent review, Valeria! Very insightful for one so young.
Edward Kelty says
This is the clearest review of the play that I have read. The comment about complexity with clarity was an excellent point. It was also useful to know how it would appeal to a wide range of ages. Looking forward to future reviews!
I enjoyed reading your review. I t has certainly made me want to see the show. Good job!
As a member of the cast of Haroun, I want to thank you for you very insightful and positive review. I hope everyone kids and grown-ups alike will see the show with the same open heart and mind that you did. All the best.
IMD Walarus, Esq.
Wendy Leibowitz says
Thanks very much for this thorough review, Valeria. I felt prepared for what seems like a complicated show. And thanks for pointing out that Salmon Rushdie had to be protected because his writings annoyed the religious authorities–talk about a man who is sad and loses his ability to write! (or at least to write publicly!)
I still wonder if it’s a show my nephews would like. They are boys, they like adventure and sword fights and superheroes. Any thoughts? If you don’t think boys would like it, or if the theater could punch things up a bit for boys, do write honesty. Honesty is appreciated in a review!
Best of luck on stage and off, Wendy
Deb Randall says
Valeria, thank you so much! I am going into Webb Elementary School next week and bringing a few classes to the show through the Helen Hayes Legacy Project. Your review is most helpful and I will use it to help students prepare. I’m really looking forward to the show (and the paper lanterns over my head…and the music…and the actors…and everything). Thanks for painting this lovely and honest picture…onward…deb.
Well put, Valeria! I am so glad you liked the show. I have not seen it yet, but will consider it now…I would like you to go and see Huck Finn’s Story at Imagination Stage and tell us what you think as well!