Blue is new. It’s the newest production from Imagination Stage’s Early Childhood program. I’ve seen and enjoyed a number of them. Blue is my favorite.
Of all of the theatre I’ve seen (along with my two and a half year-old twins) that targets the youngest of theatre-goers, Blue is the piece that is the most verbal, the most linear in terms of narrative, the least interactive, and the longest (by a smidgeon).
In other words, it’s the one that you would expect to be the most satisfying for the companions of these youngest audience members. My kids are not able to do too much in the way of comparative evaluation, so I couldn’t ask them how it compared with their previous experiences. But they, and the rest of the target audience, were engaged throughout, and seemed to enjoy it thoroughly.
One of Imagination Stage’s main-stage shows (The BFG) chalked up an impressive number of nominations in advance of the upcoming Helen Hayes Awards, with nods not only as outstanding production for young audiences, but also for direction, choreography, acting, and design, in a pool that wasn’t limited to work for young audiences. The nominees include Kathryn Chase Bryer, who ably directs Blue.
The piece was written by Annie Cusick Wood and was first produced by Honolulu Theatre for Youth. As you may infer from the title, it takes us to a world that is saturated by the titular color and inhabited by a pair called Pale Blue and Inky Blue.
We enter into what looks to be a garden outside a small cottage. We hear birds singing as we enter. From the ceiling hang blue-tinged fabric and bird-houses; on the stage are tools, bags of seed and dirt, and a book: All About Planting. Little blue flags are handed out to the little ones.
“Blue morning,” the two characters say to each other as the play begins. Then they launch into a litany composed of many different shades of blue. Volunteers from the audience come up to pull blue vegetables out of the on-stage plant bed.
These two characters live in a blue world, until a startling invasion: they discover a flower that is not blue, but red. One of the inhabitants of our blue universe is dismayed, threatened, and disturbed by this intrusion. The other is intrigued by it. And that forms the basic conflict of the play.
At this point, audiences that are used to allegorical readings of children’s literature (the cross of gold speech as it informs Oz, anyone?) will begin to analyze the play: does the flash of red represent communist thought in post-war, Eisenhower-era America? Is it meant to represent red-state intrusion into the comfortably blue enclave of Montgomery County? Are the references in the recurring gardening song (start with a pot, get seeds) supposed to imply use of hallucinogens?
By the time the story winds down, the monochromatic world has been expanded to include other hues, and the small blue banners held by our kids have been augmented by a rainbow flag held by one of the actors, it seems clear that the message is less labored, one that encourages inclusion and diversity and that challenges xenophobia. And the recurring gardening song seems to have more to do with encouraging patience than it does with cannabis.
The cast is delightful. The pairing of two men, one tall and slim, the other shorter and more rotund, is archetypal, recalling Laurel and Hardy and echoing the tramps in Waiting for Godot. Jack Novak sings, tumbles, and even juggles impressively. But let’s face it — the straight man can be the less rewarding part. Phil Reid is the foil, and he gets the choice bits, including one sublime short sequence during which he is tasked to throw out the offending red flower and instead takes both parts in a dialogue with the bloom.
Ruthmarie Tenorio designed the set, which seemed to me more involved than the pieces I’ve previously seen in Imagination’s Christopher and Dana Reeve Studio Theatre, and it was enhanced by the lighting design of Zachary Gilbert. The sound design by Patrick Calhoun incorporates familiar tunes associated with the title color (“Rhapsody in Blue”; “Blue Moon”) into the original compositions by Timothy Guillot. The costumes by Collin Ranney have tricks up their sleeves. Literally.
March 12 – April 12
4908 Auburn Avenue
Bethesda, MD 20814
Approximately 1 hour
Tuesdays thru Sundays
Details and Tickets
The introduction of color into the proceedings is continually surprising and is greeted with squeals of delight by the audience. When the first flower pops up, one uninhibited observer wondered aloud, “How did they do that?”
As with the other productions I’ve seen in the Reeve space, the audience is asked to sit on the floor, children on the outer circle of the performance space, adults behind them. However, there is fixed (comfortable) seating that people who don’t “do” floors can avail themselves of (presuming the accompanying child can be attended to).
As I said, the interactive aspect of the piece isn’t as pronounced as I’ve experienced in the past, but at the end (the show runs about an hour), the kids are invited up to play with the props and interact with the actors.
Blue is the new black — the new black-box theatre experience for early childhood audiences, that is.
Blue by Annie Cusick Wood . Directed by Kathryn Chase Bryer assisted by Nicholas Vargas . Featuring Phil Reid and Jack Novak . Composer: Timothy Guillot . Sound design: Patrick Calhoun . Scenic design: Ruthmarie Tenorio . Costume design: Collin Ranney . Lighting design: Zachary Gilbert . Produced by Imagination Stage . Reviewed by Christopher Henley.