Creators of children’s theatre have two rock-solid obligations: to entertain the kiddies without boring their parents to tears. This obligation is particularly binding on those who make theatre for the under-5 set. Parents of excessively young children are invited to be heroes all the time, and many are; they deserve better than Spongebob and Barney and their horrifying ilk.
Cowardly Christopher Finds His Courage is better, and by a considerable margin. It is – and I know this will make you cringe, but get over it – mime, but good mime. How can there by good mime? I can only tell you that from the moment Christopher (author/director Ryan Sellers) puts on his thick glasses to squint at the world, the room was full of the unmistakable sound of small children laughing. A few minutes later, I was laughing too.
Christopher is not really a coward, but he is quite nerdly. He leads the all-thumbs existence familiar to most kids. Small children are almost always at war with their environment, but Christopher is even more so. This, of course, delights the kids, who are pleased to see someone even more challenged then they. He drops dishes; he gets caught in the rain; he is overmatched by a buzzing insect. The only place where he is truly at home is the world of his video games, where his all-powerful avatar dispatches mighty foes with the twitch of Christopher’s thumb.
You can almost guess what happens next. Christopher falls asleep or falls into his computer or falls somewhere and all of a sudden it is he who is in the video game battling a formidable foe (Vato Tsikurishvili, combining balletic grace with the physique of a linebacker) for the attention of a lovely, demure lady (the lovely demure Sarah Taurchini). I will not recount all of their many adventures except to say the adventures are many, but Christopher learns an important lesson: that when bully and bully-ee stand together in a good cause, they can find themselves the fastest of friends.
Mime is one of those things which probably should be licensed. When it is done badly, it seems like a crime against nature. But when it is done well, it is a delight. Here, it is choreographed by Irakli Kavadze and the magnificent Irina Tsikurishvili, so you don’t have to worry whether it will be done well or not. Sellers, who electrified audiences this Fringe in The Imaginary Autopsee, recalls the young Chaplin with his mobile face and fluid movement. Vato Tsikurishvili is spectacularly physical, casually performing backflips on the small Synetic Family Theater stage with the same ease that you or I might use to change channels with our remotes. And Taurchini communicates distinctly with every move and gesture; you can read the story simply by watching her.
One of the hidden advantages of children’s theatre is that it exposes kids to classical, and classy music while their resistance is down. Konstantine Lortkipanidze is, as you might have suspected, spot-on in his music selection, climaxing with the lovely seldom-heard Korean folk song ‘Arirang’.
There were a few times when I had difficulty following the narrative, but I do not think this was true of the target audience, which is more expert in video games than I. The true measure of this show’s riveting quality is this: For the forty minute duration of the show, only one kid in the packed house had to excuse himself.
Cowardly Christopher Finds His Courage
Conceived and directed by Ryan Sellers
Choreographed by Irakli Kavsadze and Irina Tsikurishvili
Music direction by Konstantine Lortkipanize
Produced by Synetic Family Theater
Reviewed by Tim Treanor
Cowardly Christopher Finds His Courage runs thru Oct 31, 2010 at Synetic Family Theater in Arlington, VA.
Click here for details, directions and tickets.