Monday, January 23, 2012

Theater Review: Adventure Theatre's A Snowy Day

There are few things more delightful than an afternoon spent surrounded by a gaggle of giggling five and six year-olds. And there was plenty of opportunity for that at a showing of Adventure Theatre's new musical production, The Snowy Day. Based on Ezra Jack Keats' Caldecott Medal winning children's book of the same name, the antics of the four main characters in the play provide plenty of action, adventure and food for thought for audiences young and and not-so-young.

Keats' The Snowy Day is the tale of a young boy, Peter, who wakes up one day to find snow blanketing his neighborhood. As young children are wont to do, he puts on his snow suit and dashes outside to make snowmen and snow angels and snow balls. The plot line is endearing in its simplicity and in the way it evokes the familiar pleasures of staying home from school to have fun in the snow, to stomp through it, to draw lines in it and knock snow off of trees to make your own instant, on-demand snowfall. The book is a stand-out for two reasons - for its art, and for the fact that it was the first children's book in which the main character was black.

In Adventure Theatre's production, Playwright David Emerson Toney and Musician & Lyricist Darius Smith have adapted Keats' book and expanded each occurrence in it to include more characters and sub-plots. We meet Harold the snowman, Roberta the crow, Peter's mother, two neighbors, a fairy, a pirate and a hawker who sells snow flakes in a very warm and sunny place.

Peter has never seen snow before, and he is full of wonder at this white, crunchy stuff that has covered everything as far as he can see. The snowy day is packed with promise as he heads out in his bright red snow suit. There are hills to climb, slopes to slide down and snow pirates to vanquish. He marvels at the possibilities and pretends he's Peter the Great. Peter's mother has nourished his body and soul and Peter has no problem letting his imagination run wild. He wants someone to play with and in Harold and Roberta, he finds playmates but they also need his help to get where they need to go.

Without giving away too much of the plot, suffice to say that the music and lyrics had the children swaying, and the dialogue had them nodding in complete understanding of the boundaries imposed by mothers everywhere.

As a parent, the most revealing aspect of the production was the fact that the children in the audience absorbed the story within the context of a play. The sets, the props, the fact that there was no actual snow on the ground or that Peter's role was portrayed by someone obviously much older than a six year-old - none of these seemed to matter to the little ones. The children seemed to respond to the characters, to their fears and their joys, much as they would in a realistic movie or in a real-life situation.

Adventure Theatre's production of The Snowy Day brings to life a popular children's book (it's a staple in elementary school libraries) and is a marvelous introduction to musical theater for young kids. I have it on good authority: my five year-old declared it was "the best play" she had ever seen.

Children younger than three might find the proximity of the action a bit overwhelming. The stage is intimate and the action is up close (which is fantastic for the older pre-schoolers and the younger elementary school-age children).

The Snowy Day is playing at the Adventure Theatre in Glen Echo, Maryland from January 20, 2012 through February 12, 2012. Tickets may be purchased at Adventure Theatre's website. More information about the play is available here and about the cast and production crew, here.

Updated January 26, 2102 to include a note from Adventure Theatre:

Due to the demand for Snowy Day tickets, Adventure Theatre has added the following performances:

Sunday, January 29th at 4:30pm
Friday, February 3rd at 7:00pm
Sunday, February 5th at 4:30pm
Friday, February 10th at 7:00pm
Sunday, February 12th at 4:30pm

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Forbes Article on D.C. Pedicabs

The nose wheel makes an acute turn and plants itself in the six-foot-wide gap between two cars idling at a traffic light on 14thStreet. Before we have time to analyse just how our driver would steer the rest of the 10-foot-long ‘pedicab’ into that space, we’re straddling another lane line a few feet down the road between a big, red tourist bus and a truck. A few more zigs and zags later, we are in front of a bank of vehicles at least 30 cars deep, clear of all the exhaust. Our driver looks back at us and declares triumphantly, “Like I said, this is not my first day on the job!”

For the past two years, Will Visbeck has been honing his skills as a driver of a pedicab – known to the rest of the world variously as cycle rickshaw, cyclo, becak or trishaw – on the streets of Washington, D.C. It has no roof, doors, seatbelts, airbags, rear-view mirrors or stereo systems (though headlight, taillight and turn signals are in evidence) but we do get to make leisurely circles around statues and monuments as our driver keeps up his commentary of the sights.

Originally published in ForbesLife India. A link to the pdf version is here.