By Ben Hopkin
The Little Prince, produced by Sackerson, plays at The Art Factory in Salt Lake City, as a regional premiere. A brief word about Sackerson. I have yet to see a production of theirs that didn’t stay with me for weeks afterward. The work they do is exciting, dynamic, exploratory, and—best of all in my estimation—moving. This production of The Little Prince is no different in those regards. What marks Prince as a departure for Sackerson is that it is designed to be accessible for all ages. This, to my knowledge, is their first foray into the world of what might be termed children’s theatre.
If that is a description that might turn you away, please take a moment to reevaluate. This is one of the most magical and memorable theatrical experiences I’ve had in quite a while. I was transported, enraptured, and utterly entranced.
The Little Prince is an adaptation by Rick Cummins and John Scoullar of the beloved novella of the same name by Antione de Saint-Exupéry. Since its publication back in the 40s, the novella has continued to sell close to two million copies a year, with a total now approaching 150 million.
The play tells the story of the title character, The Little Prince (McKenzie Steele Foster) on a tiny planet far away, with only a Rose (Amy Ware) to keep him company. He leaves his small home to journey through the universe, finally arriving on Earth in the African desert, encountering odd and interesting individuals along the way, including a Fox (Shawn Saunders). Our Prince then finds a man stranded there in the Sahara, The Aviator (Alex Ungerman), to whom he recounts his adventures and with whom he forms a bond of friendship.
The production is directed by Dave Mortensen (a producing partner at Sackerson) with a deft hand. All of the elements combine to create a memorable fabric woven of gossamer dreams. The lighting, set design, costuming, sound—all play into a clearly defined vision that envelops the audience, a hug from a dear but newly-made friend. Mortensen seems particularly effective as a director when working in genres outside the realm of what might be considered realism, a talent that I find enviable.
The acting ensemble achieves performances that are nothing short of magical. Foster as the Prince charms with a direct and almost naïve simplicity that goes right to the heart. Ungerman (also a producing partner at Sackerson) grounds the play, helping us through the piece as almost a middleman. He speaks directly to us, engaging our sense of wonder as his heart opens up to the strange visitor from a far away planet.
To take nothing away from those two, Ware and Saunders shift in and out of characters with such skill that I saw all of their characterizations as individuals, rather than different incarnations of the same actors. Ware’s love of the Prince as she portrays the Rose is incandescent, while her sinister weaving of what could be deceptive lies or truths as the Snake is mesmerizing. Saunders is at his best when he embodies the Fox, and his interactions with the Prince in that character are some of my favorite moments in the production. He plays the Fox with an energy, simplicity, and vulnerability that is heartbreaking.
The entire play is underscored by music written and performed live on the cello by Brooke Bolick (with some occasional accompaniment by Shawn Saunders on what I think was a ukulele.) The music evokes the underlying and changing mood of the piece without ever drawing undue attention to itself. I loved every note of it.
It’s impossible to write of this production without mentioning the movement, choreographed by Graham Brown and with input gleaned from a workshop the company participated in run by Frantic Assembly. It is an integral part of the play that establishes character, creates the illusion of traveling great distances in a small space and illuminates the idea of ritual as a part of the formation of relationships. The work the actors do here is extraordinary. They make the movement seem effortless, and yet I know from some minor experience just how hard what they do really is.
The play is produced by Morag Shepherd, Sarah Young, and Drew Wilde and Aubrey Wilde. The visceral costumes are designed by Doris Marquez with aplomb.
The central theme of the story, for me, is summed up in the line “One sees clearly only with the heart. What is essential is invisible to the eyes.” And somehow, in a medium which is largely visual, this production opens our hearts for us to see clearly, for what felt to me like it might have been the very first time. Sackerson’s The Little Prince is an excellent family show that is perfect for this holiday season, as it has all the right elements that Christmas embodies. You’ll see what I mean when you see it.
Sackerson presents The Little Prince by Rick Cummins and John Scoullar
The Art Factory, 193 W 2100 S, Salt Lake City, 84115
Through December 22, Fridays-Saturdays 7:30 PM, matinee Dec 23 3:00 PM
Tickets: $10-$17 online at www.sackerson.org, $20 at the door
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