It is rare for parents and children to be able to see a play together without one or the other of them feeling that they are performing an act of self sacrifice. Achieving this delicate balance is just the challenge that 24th Street Theatre has given itself as a directive for its new resident company. The theater celebrates its 15th season with a pledge to produce cutting edge theater that can be enjoyed on different levels simultaneously, by adults and children alike. If the current production, Walking the Tightrope, is an indication of what is to come, LA theater lovers have a lot to look forward to.
Walking the Tightrope is a simple tale, made universally familiar by its simplicity. A young English girl goes every year on the train to visit her grandparents by the sea. This year when she arrives, her grandmother is not there. Her grandfather's inability to talk about the grandmother's passing leads him to explain her absence with a tale about her joining the circus. The plot is that simple, but there is so much more to this production than plot.
On the surface, the topic might not seem an obvious choice for a young audience, and certainly any family dealing with a recent or impending death might want to consider carefully how the tale might affect sensitive family members. That said, the subject is handled so warmly, so gently, and so delicately that it is surprisingly appropriate for most ages. The play is a poem, brought to life by storytelling actors, a touching and subtle set, live piano music, and occasional old film clips as backdrop. All of this works to illustrate the repeated refrain: Every year some things stay the same and some things change.
A mixture of real and abstract allows the house to be any of our grandparents' houses, and Esme, the little girl, is both child experiencing and adult remembering her summer vacations. The effect is so touching that there was barely a dry eye among the parents in the theater - and yet the children in the room were oblivious to the bittersweet strain. They enjoyed the laughs and the storytelling. Some of the more abstract moments may require parental explanation, but we didn't witness a single antsy or fidgety child in the audience; the show is only an hour long and absolutely sustains the interest of young and old throughout.
Particular mention must be made of Paige Lindsey White, whose adult portrayal of the child Esme is remarkable in its authenticity; her energy and sensitivity create an astonishingly believable little girl and are a major part of what makes this production such a touching success. She also draws plenty of laughs from the kids.
The issue that might give some parents pause, the grandmother's passing, is handled with such a light touch that even the youngest children in the room seemed unperturbed. On opening day there were children as young as four enjoying the show, though in general I'd recommend it for kids ages seven and up based on some of the more abstract moments.
Walking the TIghtrope is a treat for theater lovers of all ages; it plays through March 30, 2013, Saturdays at 2pm and 7:30pm.
Photo by Cindy Marie Jenkins