Before there was “Toy Story 3”, there was the beloved tale about the Velveteen Rabbit – a loyal toy that provided hours of fun and play, but then over time loses its appeal and usefulness. The tale is simple and ageless, and quite befitting for the most basic story-telling of all. In the Applause Unlimited production, the narrator, Christopher Hudert stands in front of a simple stand-up stage and introduces the hand-held puppets one by one, providing voice, songs and movement without gimmicks or fan fare.
The small boy puppet with a ready smile and shocking blond hair starts playing with the velveteen rabbit on a lark, only because he can’t find his favorite toy. The narrator shows their budding friendship in loving and gentle passages, and in no time, they are inseparable, the boy and the toy rabbit.
In one fun-loving scene, the toy is left outside where he interacts with a real rabbit who is puzzled why the saw-dust smelling fellow doesn’t hop and jump like he’s supposed to. In another, the narrator brings out a tiny bed frame and quilted cover, and the boy and the toy rabbit negotiate for space and comfort. It’s by this time that the quietly paced style of the production has settled in and the simple Mr. Rodgers-type rhythm feels just right. It’s also when the boy becomes deathly ill and innocently asks, “Who is Scarlet Fever?” The gentle levity hits its mark –we need that little boost when we realize that if he is to recuperate from such a devastating disease then everything in his room must be stripped and destroyed. Everything. Especially worn out and straggly stuffed toys that he clung to with all his might while close to death.
Thank goodness for magic in toy land, and the story proceeds to tell what happens to the loyal toy that outlived its velvety usefulness. Even in the land of digital games, Wii, and virtual reality, the sold-out crowd hung onto the narrator’s every word.
It’s a simple production, but done with grace and style. In addition to being a gifted performer, Snyder is credited with creating the puppets and is a co-creator/designer of several exquisite puppet characters from The Jungle Book on display.
The Applause Unlimited’s production is a quiet wonder, a reprieve from the sensory overload that can bombard the senses in today’s multitasked times. As refreshing as a breath of fresh air, it is a reminder that the basic unit of a theatrical experience is a good story. And as any mother’s child will attest, it doesn’t get much better than the Velveteen Rabbit.
The regular puppet shows return with a vengeance next month with Jack and the Beanstalk. Also, be sure to consult the website for the adult flavored “Puppet Slam,” which apparently sells out, so early ticket purchase is advised. Talk about imagination gone buck wild and time for parents to finally have their say — I can hardly wait.
The Velveteen Rabbit
Original Story by Margery Williams
Adapted by Terry Snyder
Applause Unlimited’s Production at The Puppet Company
Reviewed by Debbie Minter Jackson
Running time: 50 minutes, no intermission