My earliest memory of experiencing theatre is not a pleasant one: it involves blindingly lit animals playing instruments very poorly, with mouths that appear possessed by demons.
So maybe singing and dancing mechanical dolls at Chuck E. Cheese don’t qualify as “theatre” per say, but I understood they were supposed to entertain me, and I also understood they were destined to haunt my toddler nightmares for years. This is why I wish I could time travel and send my 4-year-old self to see the Shirt of Happiness, produced by Interact Story Theatre, and frankly, anything and everything else the Interact Theatre has its sights on.
Directed by Ali Oliver-Kruger, The Shirt of Happiness introduces children to the basic concepts of theatre before pulling them into its magic. The wildly talented tour guides Alina Collins-Maldonado and Jack Novak play a large number of characters in the production, including a King and Queen whose son, Prince Parsley, has fallen into great despair. They begin their mission to help him find great happiness, a feat which can be accomplished, he believes, by possessing the shirt of the happiest person alive. The Prince meets a peddler, Sonia, on the street and she enlists herself to help the Prince find this person. Along the way she unexpectedly shows him that happiness does not begin and end where the masses seem to think it does.
A number of conventions are used to include the children in the audience, including sing-alongs and call-and-answer exercises. At times I wasn’t sure who to pay more attention to: the actors or the kids engaged in the action. Both are delightful. The small set is transformative and engaging, and the costumes changes are lively and inspired.
The Shirt of Happiness
by Lenore Blank Kelner
at Studio Theatre – Stage 4
1501 14th Street NW
Washington, DC, 20005
Details and tickets
The wide array of characters will tickle not only the kids in the audience, but the adults as well (with characters like Ethel Mermaid, what’s not to love?). And please look out for the numerous puns – foodies especially will take to the humor.
The piece is children’s theatre at its very best: transportive, engaging, and full of heart. The most resonating element of the production isn’t the fantastic performances, or Leonore Blank Kelner’s witty script, or Nancy Krebs, Ben Allen-Kingsland and Ali Oliver Krueger’s music and lyrics: it’s the underlying message of personal fulfillment, an especially important concept for kids to grasp in this troubling era of reality TV and TMZ.
Life isn’t about gathering bling, or finding fame. It’s about loving each other, and loving ourselves. If only all kids could learn such lessons with the inspired minds at InterAct Story Theatre.