The first thing you need to know about Mile Square Theater in Hoboken is that it is NOT a community theater. Not that we have anything against community theaters, per se, but when you are a professional Equity house with conservatory-trained actors and beautifully-conceived sets and costumes by Broadway and off-Broadway designers, you’d like your potential public to know that you’re not a church group butchering “Hello Dolly!”
Mile Square has been around officially since 2003, known mostly at that time for their classical summer productions in Sinatra Park. They moved into their cozy 120-seat black box theater in The Monroe Center in 2008, which gave founder and artistic director Chris O’Connor a home from which to work his magic. A decade-long artistic associate of the famous Seattle Children’s Theater and a member of the Theater Arts Faculty at Rutgers, O’Connor is becoming well-known for his annual pet project, “7th Inning Stretch”, a night of 10-minute plays about baseball written by luminaries such as Lee Blessing and Warren Leight. (This year’s “7th Inning Stretch” will be performed on June 17, 18 and 19).
“The Garden of Rikki Tikki Tavi” is MSTKids! second production, following the successful “Lily’s Purple Plastic Purse” last season. Adapted from a Rudyard Kipling “Junglebook” story by Y York, “Rikki Tikki Tavi” is a clever comedy about the forging of an unlikely friendship between a self-involved bird, a sweet muskrat and an optimistic baby mongoose. Darzee, ChuChu and Rikki must come together to rid themselves of the cobra Nag, who is eyeing them for his next meal. The result is a sweet and extremely funny tale of cooperation and growing up.
I had the opportunity to see a dress rehearsal of “Rikki Tikki Tavi” and take great pleasure in recommending it highly. Trust me, I’ve seen more children’s theater than you could ever hope to ingest in a lifetime and I’ve even written a children’s play, so you can take my word for it: this production is worth your time and money. Most writers (perpetrators?) and directors of children’s theater think that if the play is loud, gratingly interactive and includes a ton of winking references to pop culture, you’ve got a hit. Kids can’t tell the difference anyway, right? Not so at Mile Square. The performance of “Rikki Tikki Tavi” is worthy of our kids; intelligent, creative, multi-layered and deserving of the overused term “magical”. And it’s funny. Really funny. For kids and adults.
The costumes by Melanie Burgess are just right, rich, earthy tones with splashes of sparkle and dazzle. Jen Price Fick's set draws you gently into the world of Rikki’s garden and keeps you there for the full 50 minutes of the production. Cast members Blaire Brooks as Darzee and Jen Ring as ChuChu lead the way with charming, hilarious performances, but each of the four cast members has some genuinely wonderful moments. I’m seeing the play with my 6-year old daughter next week and am looking forward to watching this talented cast do what they’re supposed to--interact with a group of kids.
“The Garden of Rikki Tikki Tavi” will play Saturdays at 2pm and 5pm and Sundays at 11am and 2pm from 4/2/11 to 4/17/11. Tickets are $12 for children/seniors and $20 for adults, public tickets available by calling 201-683-7014, or ordering online at milesquaretheatre.org. Monroe Theatrespace, 720 Monroe Street, 2nd Floor, in Hoboken, FREE PARKING, Handicapped Accessible.
Cast: Krys Perry as Nag, Matthew Harris as Rikki, Jen Ring as Chuchu, Blaire Brooks as Darzee. (Photo by Craig Dale)