“One sees clearly only with the heart.
What is essential is invisible to the eye.”
— Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
For her final play at UMD, director Ann Aiko Bergeron has selected the beloved story of “The Little Prince.” The tale is a testament to the power and importance of imagination, and this production, which opened Thursday night, beautifully brings all that to life on stage.
As the wide-eyed Little Prince, Austin Becker cultivates one of those odd but interesting ways of speaking that makes a character instantly captivating, and sound both young and wise. Jack Senske’s Aviator has to be the adult in the relationship for most of the play, but his closing lines are the night’s biggest emotional moment.
The performances are clearly calibrated for the young, and certainly the youngest audience members responded gleefully when the Little Prince traveled to other planets to meet an oddball quintet, all of whom are played by the tag-team of Zachariah Sterner and Liam Jeffrey.
Sterner finds three different ways to go big with the King, the Businessman and the Geographer, while Jeffrey gives the Conceited Man and the delightful Lamplighter decidedly different accents.
The way the laughter passed from the kids to the adults reminded me of in “Neverland” when J.M. Barrie plants the orphans in the opening night audience of “Peter Pan.” Of course, the second half of “The Little Prince” enters philosophical territory way over the heads of the kids.
Jeffrey also plays a pivotal role as the Fox, who is able to teach the Little Prince more than all the silly grownups combined. Daysha Ramsey plays the vain Rose that is the object of the Little Prince’s affection, and then returns as the Snake, who certainly seems very serpent-like.
The rest of the cast consists of an eight-person “Environsemble,” who morph from stars in the night sky to the Aviator’s airplane to a field of rippling wheat. They are the dancing wind, the Little Prince’s opponents in a game of whack-a-baobab, a well in the desert, an echo, a mirror, a wall of cacklin’ roses, and even a scorpion. The common denominator is Bergeron turning the story into a more compelling theatrical experience.
The gorgeous scenic design by Ashley Wereley is complemented by the colorful costumes of the Environsemble. The projections designed by Ben Harvey charmingly let us see the Aviator’s artwork throughout the evening.
The choice of characters cut by Rick Cummins and John Scoullar in adapting the novella is crucial. By abandoning some of the more ambiguous elements, this script actually heightens the allegorical nature of Saint-Exupéry’s work.
One of the reasons those who love “The Little Prince” return to the story time and time again is that as you continue to grow up, new meanings are revealed in the telling of the tale. This production helps make that visible to the eyes of its audience.
If you go
What: “The Little Prince” by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, adapted by Rick Cummins and John Scoullar
Where: Mainstage Theatre at the Marshall Performing Arts Center at UMD
When: 7:30 p.m. Feb. 6-8 and 12-15, 2 p.m. Feb. 9
Tickets: $25 adults, $20 seniors, UMD faculty, staff and veterans; $15 student; $10 UMD students at tickets.umn.edu or 218-726-8561
Lawrance Bernabo is a theater and arts reviewer for the News Tribune.