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A CurtainUp Review
The Veleteen Rabbit

But, you see, those things don’t matter at all. Because once you are real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand. And it lasts for always.— Skin Horse
One of the nice things about parenting is the range of experiences you get to enjoy with your child. . .experiences which increasingly coincide with your own interests as your child gets older and better able to appreciate them. We’ve taken our daughter to a whole host of live events—carnivals, fairs, parades, concerts, you name it. Getting her to live theater, one of my great loves, has been considerably more challenging, from schedules not syncing up to other activities holding more appeal.

I must admit that I haven’t been overly impressed with the children’s theater I have seen, which often seems amateurish, disorganized and so soppingly sentimental it’s a wonder that kids are getting anything at all from the experience. But with the opportunity to review a new children’s production of Margery Williams’ classic story The Velveteen Rabbit, I thought the time had come to bring my daughter into the world of the professional review. I’m pleased to report that daughter and father came away from the experience both happy (she loved it) and hopeful (I think this is a good sign for children’s theater).

The story itself is familiar to just about any parent (or indeed person who remembers a good part of his/her childhood): a velveteen rabbit, a young boy’s favorite toy and beloved companion, learns how to become “real,” figuratively and otherwise, through the mutual love he shares with the boy. “Real isn’t how you are made, it’s a thing that happens to you,” the old skin horse tells the rabbit. “When a child loves you for a long, long time—not just to play with, but really loves you—then you become real.” In the months and years that follow, the rabbit waits patiently for the nursery magic to work, learning in the process that he’s as much a part of making it happen as anyone or anything he encounters.

There’s nothing particularly edgy about the narrative, and director and adapter Kevin Del Aguila’s few nods towards modernization don’t push the envelope: Coraline this isn’t. But the tone and pace of the production, emotional without being maudlin and quick without being rushed, keep the experience fresh and engaging.

My daughter (who admittedly already loves storytelling of all kinds) was rapt for the entire forty minute running time, and was saddened and delighted in the appropriate spots. Credit for this has partly to do with Del Aguila’s respectful approach, both to his source material and his target audience: he isn’t interested either in overwhelming or patronizing his young watchers, and the balance he strikes is a good one. But the three person cast of Jim Stanek (the boy), John Curcuru (Nana), and Kristin Parker (the Rabbit) are the true secret to the show’s success. Professional without being aloof, each actor is wholly convincing, and they’re all so obviously having a blast performing their roles while handling rapid set and costume changes with aplomb that the result is charming.

Nursery land is not an entirely happy place, and at times the show is measured and thoughtful, with gestures towards considerations of age, illness and mortality—but this too is well handled and totally appropriate. Indeed, it’s precisely because the production understands its audience so well, and takes it seriously, that it really works.

Children are neither small adults nor large babies, and understanding the unique aspects of childhood which make it what it is may perhaps be the best part of DR2 Theatre’s Velveteen Rabbit. In a world of commercialized and watered down gruel for children, warmed over platitudes presented in sickeningly sweet fashion by tired-looking purple dinosaurs, it’s a pleasure to see a show which manages to be both warm and wise. Or, as my daughter put it after meeting the three characters after the show: “Daddy, I really liked this. Can I see them again tomorrow?” I can’t give any higher praise than that.

The Velveteen Rabbit
Based on the Children’s Novel by Margery Williams
Adapted by Kevin Del Aguila
Director: Kevin Del Aguila
Cast: Alison Barton (Female Understudy), John Curcuru (Nana), Jared Loftin (Male Understudy), Kristin Parker (Rabbit), Jim Stanek (Boy)
Scenic Design: Lake Simons
Costume Design: Patrick Johnson
Lighting Design: Josh Smith
Music Direction: Barbara Anselmi
Running time: Forty minutes with no intermission
DR2 Kids’ Theatre, 103 East 15th St., (212) 239-6200
From 11/18/12 to 1/27/13; opening 11/18/12
Friday @ 5 p.m., Saturday and Sunday @ 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 4 p.m.
Tickets: $39.00
Reviewed by Dr. Gregory A. Wilson and Senavene Wilson based on Nov. 23rd performance
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