‘Tis the season for sugarplum fairies, light shows, mall shopping, full schedules, and exhaustion; these are the sights and sounds that overstimulate while under-utilizing imagination. It always seems that there is too little time for what really matters. There is too much hype, a cacophony of attention grabbing devices, and not a moment to slow down, enjoy family time, and stretch the imaginations of loved ones. For families looking for a way to extend the brightness of the season, bring back the feel of simpler times and most especially have a great deal of holiday cheer together, the gift of tickets to Quintessence Theatre Group’s THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS is a must.
Imagination abounds in the telling of this classic tale, laid out with simplicity and splendor on a small, unornamented, runway stage. Stellar performances create the collection of charming characters, with 11 actors playing some 48 roles. It is pure pleasure to marvel at their talent, exuberance, and creativity while completely giving over when river banks, burrows, and mansions, wild rides in motor cars, trains passing by, rowboats, and barges slipping through rivers are created from nothing but performances, bits of fabric and wood and the mind’s eye.
To choose some from the cast to highlight with a list of performance accomplishments is like choosing among the stars in the sky. Every actor brings talent, skill, variety, whimsy, and delight to the many characters each plays. These triple and quadruple threat actors sing, dance, and play instruments. Thankfully, all have abundant stage time.
Daniel Frederick as Rat along with Sean Close as Mole craft the heart of the show with a warm and charming friendship duo that leads the way. Their friendship seems real, with animal characteristics delicately adding to, but never distracting from, the charm and believability of the portrayal. Sidekicks range from Badger (Jake Blouch), who wisely befriends and supports the pair, along with adding a bit of gypsy guitar music to the mix, to Toad (Khris Davis), who ardently and conceitedly leads them to an inadvertent, life changing, adventure. Blouch is genuine and warm, and believably Badger. Davis bubbles, smiles, croaks, leaps, and schemes his way through Toad, adding defining throat bloatings to be more toadish. Otter (Jamison Foreman) makes a special music of his own on multiple instruments, along with providing music direction and multiple charming characters. Sean Bradley plays, among other characters, a downtrodden horse named Albert as a sympathetic mix of Eeyore and Forrest Gump. Lee Minora and Brendan Norton enliven the stage with a range of characters and accents, songs and dances and even a bit of, always humorous, cross-dressing. Weaseling their way about the cast, in multiple roles, are Josh Carpenter and Craig Patrick O’Brien, who bespeak weasels from head to toe.
The skilled hand of Alexander Burns, the director, makes mountains and molehills, using trap doors, an unconventional and unusually small stage space, lighting, music, and performers. Not one moment of the production wavers or disillusions. An assortment of accents represents varying social classes and regions of the British Isles. By the end, the audience is surprised to realize that there is not a London street waiting outside, but rather the charming cobblestones of Germantown Avenue.
Don’t be fooled by the title, this is a family event, with something for every age. This is not just a children’s story. The script contains rich language, social commentary, told through a lens of childlike whimsy, and wholly engaging characters. The message of true friendship in an uncertain world shines through.
Hop, burrow, swim, waddle, scamper or scurry in for a tasty holiday treat to delight the entire family.
THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS
by Kenneth Grahame
Adapted for the Stage by Alan Bennett
Directed by Alexander Burns
December 11, 2013 – January 4, 2014
Quintessence Theatre Group
The Sedgwick Theater
7137 Germantown Avenue
Philadelphia, PA 19119