Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Tale of the Name of the Tree, Talespinner Children’s Theatre

There can never be enough children’s theater. Because this is how we teach little ones the difference between birthday party balloon-twisting clowns and performers of another ilk.

That’s why everyone with rug rats in their home should celebrate the opening of Talespinner Chidren’s Theatre. Located in a spacious and comfy theater on Detroit Road, this venture under the artistic direction of multi-talented theater veteran Alison Garigan promises to provide both children and theater people new and challenging opportunities.

Their first production, The Tale of the Name of the Tree, is a Bantu tale adapted by local playwright Michael Sepesy. And while it’s not airtight in all respects, this inaugural offering has plenty to recommend it—for sippy-cup users as well as those who chauffeur the young lads and lasses to their various entertainments.

It seems that a number of different animals in the jungle are losing their food sources. And it is rumored that a lion has a huge fruit tree, but it will only release it’s goodies when someone can intone the mysterious name of the tree.

The five inventively-masked actors who play the animals are thoroughly engaged and continually try to connect with their young audience members. Ray Caspio is a wonderfully nervous ostrich and Elaine Feagler ambulates with purposeful intent and the adorable, slow moving turtle.

As the meerkat, Nathaniel Leeson with his mask on looks weirdly like David Spade, and he’s equally as funny. His whip-sharp head turns and lack of short-term memory create laughs for people of any age.

As the cheetah, Stephanie Wilbert works admirably hard but never quite lands on a feline personality that clearly resonates. And James (Jack) Hunt has some nice (okay) moments, but fails to make his elephant as accessible as he might.

Sepesy includes a number of subtle jokes for the adults in the audience, always a thoughtful touch. And he sneaks in some mildly political fodder. But the play spends a lot of time travelling through an imaginary jungle and could benefit from a clear and tangible villain (kids love villains!) who might add both humor and tension.   

By featuring some African-inspired music and dance, director Garrigan has fashioned an hour-long live theater experience that all your back seat riders will enjoy.

The Tale of the Name of the Tree
Through July 8 at Talespinner Children’s Theatre, The Reinberger Auditorium, 5209 Detroit Ave., 216-264-9680.

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