To think I almost passed on seeing The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane because I assumed it would be just another snuffle bunny production. I nearly missed out on one of the most touching journeys I ever could have imagined.
Imagination Stage brings life, vitality and humor to this sweet tale of a china doll rabbit who gets tossed from one adventure to another. It’s a sentimental story with dark sad passages, but it doesn’t feel maudlin or forced. The award-winning book by Kate DiCamillo hits life’s high points and low ones and flawless direction by Janet Stanford makes the series of adventures feel personal and real. Stanford is absolutely gifted in finding the heartbeat of each of the relationships, assures an everyday reality and presents piercingly real moments of love and loss with tenderness and care.
Edward Tulane starts off as stiff and upper crust as his name. A grandmother selects him as an ideal gift for her granddaughter Abilene who loves him dearly, dresses him to the nines, and takes him along to all of her high-class activities although he’s most content sitting by the window looking up at the morning sky and evening stars.
The rabbit in question is voiced by the always amazing Brandon McCoy who provides the guitar accompaniment and nifty harmonica interludes as well. With an all shucks kind of saunter, McCoy articulates the inner dialog and evolving emotions and temperaments of the doll rabbit who starts with a hoity-toity almost sneeringly highfalutin’ take on life, and then slowly transitions to the most humanistic expressions imaginable.
The grandmother’s first bedtime story sets the tone that this is no ordinary children’s tale. Wonderfully played by Tonya Beckman, she recounts the dreary situation of a beautiful princess who loved no one. The end and period. You’d think that Tulane would get the hint then and there about the importance of caring for others, but it obviously will take more than that to knock this upper crust china doll off his peg of entitlement. And man, when he falls, he hits rock bottom, literally, learning valuable life lessons on the way down and back up.
The actors all portray various characters and are only identified as The Traveler, the Musician, The Woman and The Man. I caught Brian McDermott in the roles usually performed by Jaysen Wright– he captured the nuances so beautifully that the term “understudy” doesn’t do him justice—he’s more an alternate performer. I’m determined to see the show again to enjoy the original casting just as much. Tia Shearer brings a wide-eyed innocence to her roles and Beckman has a wise-soul bearing of history, legacy, and a bit of mystery as the narrator.
Edward Tulane traverses through American history between 1925 and 1945 from ocean-liners through the Depression being carried, tossed and discarded through life maintaining a sense of dignity no matter what. What feels like brief interludes to the rabbit doll are actually years that are periodically projected on the versatile screen center-stage to give a sense of time and history. Throughout, we hear his inner ruminations whether he’s lying face down in muck on the bottom of the sea, stuck on the top of a scarecrow pole or even buried in a trash dump. Somehow, he finds a way to get salvaged from certain ruin still yearning to gaze at the stars while reaching for his long absent precious pocket watch to tell the time.
The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane
closes October 30, 2016
Details and tickets
Tulane is passed along, found, patched up and loved by an assortment of characters. Just when he seems comfortably settled in one setting, he’s thrust into another. Each loss however opens up worlds of possibility that couldn’t have been imagined before. The subtle message of letting go and moving on is most poignant and heartbreaking when Tulane is the only bright spot for an abused brother tending his sick sister, both abandoned in a shack. It’s a tough passage to watch and feel, but as in life, when it’s time, the brother must pick up what’s left in his life, including Edward Tulane, and move on. The miraculous journey shows the grace of dealing with the vicissitudes of life one step at a time, and appreciating the camaradery of fellow travelers along the way.
Set design by Samina Vieth includes an opaque window screen center stage to accommodate projections of helpful silhouettes and images. Costume designer Robert Croghan keeps a refreshingly simple approach to the characters, working wonders with a scarf, hat, and nicely structured trousers. An assortment of Edward Tulane dolls are needed to reflect the times, and were designed and constructed by Rachel Anne Healy and Timothy Mann. Healy and Megan Turner give Tulane outfits that go from a dapper 3-piece blue suit complete with pocket watch and wing tip shoes, and classy silk pajamas to rag tag attire.
This first offering of a miraculous journey is a tantalizing beginning to what promises to be an astoundingly entertaining season at Imagination Stage. The producers invite us to “See the world …through the eyes of a China rabbit, a scary castle inhabited by a Beast, a faraway planet, a jungle full of animals, and a Rock ‘n’ Roll Wonderland.” After the must-see beloved Beauty and the Beast, The Freshest Snow Whyte is written and directed by Psalmayene 24. Need I say more? Yes, there’s two more shows coming next spring. Here’s to a terrific line up filled with poignant messages and fresh approaches to life filled with imagination at Imagination Stage.
Recommended for Ages 6 and up.
The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo . Directed by Janet Stanford . Cast: Tonya Beckman, Brandon McCoy, Tia Shearer, Jaysen Wright . Music director: Brandon McCoy . Scenic designer: Samina Vieth . Costume designer: Robert Croghan . Lighting: Jason Arnold . Sound: Thomas Sowers . Stage manager:Ellen Houseknecht . Produced by Imagination Stage . Reviewed by Debbie Minter Jackson.