To children, the world is often a large and overbearing place. Think of how difficult it would be if each chair you sat in was three feet tall, the table even higher, and the doorknob impossibly out of reach. Hans Christian Andersen’s classic story of Thumbelina is not just a fairy tale, but a treatise on a child’s perspective of an adult world built completely out of scale for children.
Imagination Stage’s fresh take on this story encapsulates much of Andersen’s original plot, with Thumbelina (the vibrant Unissa Cruse) the centerpiece of a whirlwind journey from her human-sized parent, Old Lady, who raised her, to various ill-fitting locales until she finds where she belongs. Along the way she meets a Toad (Gary L Perkins III), a Mayfly (Melissa Carter) and a terrible, evil Mole (Jonathan Atkinson, in a gleefully understated bad guy role).
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This is a piece meant for the youngest of audiences, but even the older ones will find high adventure in Thumbelina’s wanderings. Visually, the Imagination designers have created a lush, beautiful piece of theater presented.With miniature puppet stages both stage right and stage left, to portray tiny Thumbelinas using marionettes, hand puppets, rod puppets, and shadow puppets, all projected via camera to the center screen onstage for easy viewing.
The second act, following a long intermission, fails to recapture the pace of the first: it’s just overtime, especially for the littlest folks. Give them too long a break, and they just can’t settle down for the rest of the story. The fight scene between Mole and Thumbelina, done in slow motion, was particularly overlong, given the youth of the crowd.
Thumbelina closes April 5, 2020. DCTS details and tickets
In a departure from Andersen’s story, Thumbelina discovers it isn’t size or looks that makes a person, it’s who they are. Andersen’s original ended with Thumbelina living happily with the pint-sized fairies, but in this updated version by creator Natsu Onanda Power, Thumbelina stays half a year with her fairies and friends, and the other half with her Old Lady. It’s a good, modern compromise, and though it doesn’t detract from the Andersen storyline, I couldn’t help but think that the Old Lady gets short shrift either way; Thumbelina comes across as more than a little self-serving and selfish in her disregard for Old Lady’s feelings.
In the early 1960s, my then-three-year-old brother Roger went to a special eye doctor in Washington DC. Surprisingly, we looked forward to these visits, in part because of the waiting room: right alongside the traditional ugly avocado Naugahyde sofas and chairs were tiny, specially made child-sized copies, upholstered in identical fake green leather, with small coffee tables loaded with Highlights magazines. Instead of being nervous, each child who visited Dr Kostumbator knew that here was someone who instinctively understood what made small children feel at ease.
That’s something adults often forget. The world is a big place when you’re a small person. Thumbelina can be a good springboard for you and your own small person to talk about the adventures they can look forward to along the way to finding the place where they fit.
Thumbelina, based on the Hans Christian Anderson story . Written, Directed, and Illustrated by Natsu Onoda Power . Cast: Jonathan Atkinson, Melissa Carter, Ines Dominguez del Corral, Unissa Cruse, Gary L Perkins III . Scenic Designer: Nate Sinnot . Costume Designer: Madison Booth . Lighting Design: Sarah Tunderman . Sound Design: Justin Schmitz . Assistant Sound Design: Tosin Olufalabi . Projections/Animation Designer: Kelly Colburn . Stage Manager: Kate Kilbane . Produced by Imagination Stage . Reviewed by Jill Kyle-Keith.