Theatre de la Jeune Lune, The Little Prince
The company’s adaptation of the book, running through the end of December in downtown Minneapolis, highlights the imagination. The stage is almost completely bare of set pieces and props, while the three performers both show and tell the events of the book.
St. Exupéry used his experiences as a pilot in the Sahara Desert as the foundation for the book, and the vast expanses of sand, sun and silence are a much a player in this production as they three performers. Here, the desert is represented by a stage that is completely bare, save for a hole that represents the crash of the narrator’s plane.
The story is told by the author, played by Steven Epp. But the narrative is more complex than that. The version of himself in the desert (Nathan Keepers) interacts with his older self, with the two of them sometimes trading or even sharing dialogue. That becomes more complex with the arrival of the Little Prince (Max Friedman), and the three of them share the space, action and dialogue.
The play enfolds the journey of the Little Prince - who traveled to the Earth from his tiny home asteroid - and the journey of the storyteller, who is stranded in the middle of the Sahara, 1,000 miles from human habitation with a wrecked airplane.
As he attempts to repair his plane before his meager supplies run out, he meets the prince, whose first request is “draw me a sheep.” At first taken aback, the pilot quickly discovers that his own boy-like take on the world fits well with the Little Prince’s alien outlook. The Prince has a sadness that cannot be solved on the Earth - he wishes to return to his home, but is unsure of how to make the journey. His solution is both heartbreaking and uplifting for the narrator.
Adaptors Rick Cummins and John Scoullar have done a good job of bringing the book to the stage, though there are parts where the narrative has either been changed or is just confusing to the audience. During the middle of the play, the narrator travels to several odd alien planets and meets the even odder inhabitants. In the book, it is clear these are the Little Prince’s adventures. Here, it isn’t. And that strips the Prince of much of his journey - and the reason for his sorrow on the Earth.
The three performers jump into their roles with full gusto. Epp’s narrator is a hesitant, almost stammering storyteller - as if he knows that no one will believe his story, but that it is one that must be told anyway. Keepers brings childlike energy and intensity to his younger pilot and Friedman (an area eighth-grader) is a delight as the always searching Prince.
Like many Jeune Lune shows, the visual set pieces threaten to overtake the action, be it the visions of the characters flying or a moment where the narrator carries his younger self on his back, who is carrying the Little Prince on his back. Here, however, the narrator is always present to bring the action back on track.
What Jeune Lune’s The Little Prince does best is retain the spirit of St. Exupéry original story. We fall easily into the charms of the characters and get a real sense of the childlike, but so very knowing, philosophy of the sad traveler to the Earth.
The Little Prince runs through January 1 at Theatre de la Jeune Lune, 101 N. First St., Minneapolis. For tickets and more information, call 612-333-6200 or visit www.jeunelune.org.