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Washington DC by Susan Berlin

The Little Prince

Also see Susan's reviews of Cinderella and Martha, Josie and the Chinese Elvis

The Little Prince
Craig Wallace and
Jamie Klassel

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's children's story The Little Prince has defied many attempts to dramatize it, most notably a 1974 film version with songs by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe. Sad to say, the non-musical adaptation by Rick Cummins and John Scoullar, now at Round House Theatre in Bethesda, MD, falls into the same traps of preciousness, preachiness and pretentiousness.

The 1943 book tells of an aviator (Craig Wallace) who crashes his plane in the Sahara Desert, and a tiny boy from another planet (Jamie Klassel) who becomes his friend and inspiration. However, the lessons of The Little Prince may be more effective on the page than on stage, where they tend toward the simplistic. Primarily, the message seems to be that children, with their wide-eyed sense of wonder and open-hearted joy, are morally and intellectually superior to adults, whose daily cares leave them without imagination and unable to comprehend the really important things.

The bulk of the story, and of the dramatization, is the Little Prince's recounting of his visits to other planets. Along the way, he meets a succession of negative adult role models (all played by Jen Plants), including a self-important king who is the only resident of his kingdom, a geographer too busy pontificating about knowledge to leave his study and explore the world, and a businessman who cares only for profit. Meanwhile, the pilot is spending his time trying to repair his airplane before he dies of thirst and exposure to the desert sun.

Other major characters include a magnificently beautiful but manipulative rose (Elaine Yuko Qualter), a fox (Wallace) who engages the Prince in philosophical conversations that compare the taming of a wild animal with the development of a friendship, and a snake (Qualter) who serves a purpose similar to the one in the Garden of Eden. All the performers clearly believe in what they're doing, but it's still slow going.

Round House, and director Eric Ting, are treating the work as a family-friendly allegory describing "what's really important in life." The problem is that it isn't especially engaging to watch; it's rather static, in fact. The pilot and the Prince mostly speak to the audience rather than to each other, and a little declaiming can go a long way.

The core of James Kronzer's set is the aviator's downed plane, partially suspended by ropes and apparently in a hangar rather than the desert. While it's true that the aviator is recounting his experiences rather than living them in real time, the specifics of the setting don't seem to fit. More in tune with the spirit of fantasy are Kate Turner-Walker's costumes, specifically the Rose's Spanish-inspired ensemble and the snake's glittering black gown and long train.

Round House Theatre
The Little Prince
November 15th December 10th
By Rick Cummins and John Scoullar, based on the book by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
The Man, The Fox: Craig Wallace
The Boy: Jamie Klassel
The Rose, The Snake: Elaine Yuko Qualter
The King, The Conceited Man, The Business Man, The Lamplighter, The Geographer, The Desert Flower, The Mountain Echo, The Rose Wall: Jen Plants
Directed by Eric Ting
4545 East-West Highway
Bethesda, MD
Ticket Information: 240-644-1100 or www.roundhousetheatre.org


Photo: Stan Barouh


-- Susan Berlin


Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for D.C.



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