A Curious Christmas/The Little Prince | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

A Curious Christmas/The Little Prince 

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A CURIOUS CHRISTMAS

Mettle Theatre
at Heartland Cafe Studio Theatre

Curious indeed, and with a strong debt to Beckett, A Curious Christmas is best summed up by one of its characters as "three dipshits left on an empty planet." In Mark Routhier's original Christmas offering it's Christmas Eve and Sledge (Routhier) and Reid (Paul Schnabel) have just emerged from the catacombs beneath Grand Central Station (where they went to find a skull to give as a Christmas present) to discover "a rankness in the air" and all of New York City devoid of life--no lights, no people, no sound.

Reid is homeless and (in the tradition of theatrical bums) philosophical, "unburdened by the mundane, free to think higher thoughts." Sledge, on the other hand, carries the "burden of familial guilt." He has parents and a brother, and he wants to know what happened to them. The pair take refuge beneath the Williamsburg Bridge and indulge in patter vaguely reminiscent of but by no means as absorbing as that in Waiting for Godot. As they ponder humanity, or its sudden disappearance, they wait anxiously for Cap (Kahn Dockery), the third member of their party, who is supposedly searching the city for an explanation. Cap shows up in act two to report that "the cockroaches made the cut, God bless 'em," but that nothing else seems to have escaped.

"Everything we do from here on out assumes a much greater significance," says Reid. They decide that the earth is their inheritance (they are the meek, after all) whether they want the responsibility or not. Their next course of action will be to follow the star that shines over the Woolworth building, in the hope that it will lead them to Memphis. There the three self-appointed wise men will meet Cap's old girlfriend, who claims to have conceived a child in the immaculate manner some nine months earlier.

Much is left unexplained in Routhier's script, and Louie Racht's direction doesn't do much to fill in the blanks. While I could live with the mystery of mankind's sudden disappearance, and I admired the outlandish twist on the three wise men, I found myself wishing I'd found out more about the only three men left on the planet by the end of the show than I knew at the beginning. Routhier plays Sledge as an engaging bundle of nerves and sentiment, while Schnabel as Reid has an interesting sort of low-key magnetism; but their friendship is never explained. Young men with homes and families don't often keep company with street people, even vaguely poetic ones. As Cap, Dockery is too busy searching for his lines on the ceiling to add the tension you often find in a threesome, and any life Cap had prior to this Christmas Eve is summarily dismissed.

While I found some of the gritty sentiment expressed in Mettle Theatre's A Curious Christmas preferable to the sugarplums dancing on most holiday stages this month, its occasional incoherence and tendency to favor rambling monologues over plot are considerable drawbacks.

THE LITTLE PRINCE

Touchstone Theatre

My ten-year-old nephew is a dreamy, patient kid, but when I tried to read him The Little Prince he didn't last two pages. Although author Antoine de Saint-Exupery implores children to "have patience with adults," my nephew obviously thought that enduring Saint-Exupery's long-winded (though beautiful) metaphors was patience above and beyond the call of duty; he ran off as soon as he could think of a decent excuse, leaving me to finish the book on my own. I did, and thought it was marvelous. I've always believed that The Little Prince is a book for grown-ups: Saint-Exupery seems to think that children have everything well in hand and don't need to be told that "it is only with the heart that one sees clearly." Most grown-ups are crazy about the book but will admit that they simply couldn't get through it as children.

Touchstone's annual production of the tale follows the same pattern. This story of the amazing boy from asteroid B-612 who leaves his home and the Rose he loves to seek adventure and understanding is talkative, dense, and a little preachy. It left most of the children in the audience squirming restlessly. A bevy of little girls next to me were more interested in getting their hands on some of the white sand from Brian Traynor's clean, Spartan set than they were in the Little Prince's musings. Director Phillip Edward VanLear tries to cater to the kids by keeping the pacing as bright as the colors of Patricia Hart's costumes, but the production still moves too slowly for the children, and it's been done too simply to hold the adults' interest.

As the aviator who meets the Prince while he's stranded in the Sahara, Charles Glenn seems to have been instructed to merely tell the story instead of investing himself in it emotionally. Young Brendon DeMay as the Little Prince has his hands full with Saint-Exupery's language, and although he does a stand-up job, the odds are not good that he's going to get other children to understand it. The most compelling performance is Jeffrey Frace's as the Fox: he plays a neat little game of approach/avoidance with the Prince, proving that difficult concepts can indeed hold a child's attention if you only present them honestly and without condescension. It is the Fox who explains that "what is essential is invisible to the eye," and that "one runs the risk of weeping a little, if one lets himself be tamed."

On the whole this production is rather stiff and actorly, but the story is powerful enough to bring it through in the end. VanLear's strong final image of the Little Prince brings a pleasant tear to the eye.

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