My husband and I brought our just turned 20-month-old twins to a performance of Inside Out, a Theatre for the Very Young production at Imagination Stage in Bethesda.
Our family is no stranger to Imagination Stage. We’ve been pretty much taking one “You and Me” class after the other since the kids turned one. We’ve been to a couple of the main-stage shows and a previous Theatre for the Very Young production.
That earlier Theatre for the Very Young show was called Aquarium, and it had a bit of a different thrust than does Inside Out. Aquarium involved taking the kids on a kind of fantasy trip, and it focused on creating images and experiences that were sort of magical. There’s that element to Inside Out as well.
However, Inside Out takes place in the bedroom of a brother and sister. Hanging outside the performance space are a bunch of socks on clothes lines. Upon entering the theater, all of the kids are given a little laundry bag by the brother. Along with a certain amount of puppetry and the acting out of animals, there are also things along a more gently instructional line: matching socks, folding shirts, dressing, putting things away. As the piece goes on, it does become less prosaic and more lyrical, and it ends with a free-play component involving (mostly) clothes, which is the organizing theme of the piece.
The press material says that the run time is 45 minutes, although with the opening instructions and the playtime after, you can expect to be there a little more than an hour. It’s called appropriate for ages one to five, but there are cheaper “lap seats” for under-ones, of which there were a few in attendance.
Director Kathryn Chase Bryer is Associate Artistic Director of Imagination Stage, and she developed the piece with Natasha Holmes, Director and Co-Founder of Tell Tale Hearts Children’s Touring Theatre Company, a British group with which Imagination Stage is collaborating for a second time. In the process of developing the play, they observed small children in Bethesda and their interaction with…well, clothes.
It’s so much fun to watch theatre for young people when it’s done well. The way the kids laugh is delightful, as is the way they interact with the performers, whether invited to do so…or not. Our daughter didn’t want to leave the space when the show was over, and she ran through the halls laughing gleefully. Of course, she’s a sucker for bubbles (which make an appearance), and she loves to play with clothes. Our son is the dancer, and there was a chance for him to show off his moves during a dance-along.
There are two terrific actors — Megan Graves as the sister and Bradley Foster Smith as the brother. Graves kept personas distinct when the sister dressed as, and hesitantly channeled, the children’s parents. You can tell that Smith has remarkable vocal skills. Both invest the slight plot (involving the brother misplacing his favorite hat) with enough import that it’s clear to, and involving for, the kids. And (spoiler alert — don’t tell your kids this!) the plot resolves with a lovely example of sharing. (Believe me, when you have twins, you appreciate any re-enforcement of the impulse to share.)
I always think it’s important for critics also to act as reporters. If you think something is bad, but the audience is obviously digging it, I believe it is incumbent upon the critic to report that. Likewise, the same holds if you like something a lot, but are aware of other, contrary responses. So I dutifully add to the record some voices that were more critical than mine. I made note of a number of the critiques flung at the stage during the performance by some of the more articulate and less inhibited in the audience.
“Your socks aren’t all the way on!” From an audience member who obviously pays close attention to detail.
“That’s not a mountain!” This child desired more verisimilitude than the performance provided.
“That’s a cow-girl!” Someone didn’t find the sister-as-father conceit convincing.
“It’s too big for you!” No costume designer was credited in my press materials, obviously shamed into disavowing involvement.
“Your sister did it!” Some kids wanted to accelerate the pace of plot revelations.
“It’s night-time!” This lad was so enthralled that he had to be restrained from crawling onto the performance area.
How delightful, in the era of complacent, passive audiences, to find that there are still theatre-goers who are completely engaged. This next generation might really care about the arts, like the audience that rioted outside the Abbey Theatre after the premiere of The Playboy of the Western World.
Taking pictures isn’t allowed during the show, but is permitted afterwards, during the play-time. Here are a few shots we took then:
(Full disclosure: Though I don’t know Bradley Foster Smith outside of this show, he is playing the lead in the upcoming world premiere of Nero/Pseudo, the glam-rock historical musical, at WSC Avant Bard, where I am Artistic Director Emeritus.)
Inside Out . Directed by Kathryn Chase Bryer; Developed by Imagination Stage and Tell Tale Hearts Company (U.K.).
Performances are weekend and most weekday mornings at Imagination Stage, 4908 Auburn Avenue, Bethesda, MD.
Details and tickets