March 18, 2002
For more about Lynn Trenning, please visit her main page.
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Boy, does Childrenís Theater know how to create animals that groove, jive and quiver! The latest miniaturization of a classic to grace its stage is Jungalbook, an abridged version of Rudyard Kiplingís tales of a boy raised by wolves. This rendition concentrates on "the law of the jungle" and the consequences of breaking the law. The laws seem simple. Never kill for pleasure, never kill one of your own kind, and never kill man. Frankly it didnít occur to me that children need to know this much about killing, but they seemed to accept the logic as natural.|
The play opens with a black panther named Bagheera cutting a deal with a wolf pack to protect a man-cub, in return for a fresh piece of meat he has killed. The wolves agree, much to the aggravation of Sherakhan, the man-hating tiger who stalks and threatens the man-cub throughout the play. Named Mowgli by the mother wolf, as this wild boy grows from a man-cub into a man, he ultimately must claim an identity, though itís clear he will never be an exclusive member of either the world of men or beasts.
This play would have amused me even if it had no words. The striking set and textured lighting transformed the stage into a shadowy jungle. Playing on the theme of humanimals, director April Jones celebrated the similarities between beast and man with upright animals in costumes designed by Janet Gray and held together by innuendo. The jungle was actually a jungle gym rivaling anything Mecklenburg County Parks has to offer. Rope swings and slides, horizontal and vertical ladders and a tire swing provided multiple levels of floor space and lots of nooks for easy exits and surprising entrances. The set was accentuated by dappled purple, green and blue lights. Torn burlap and meshy leaves completed the feel of tropical adventure.
As a complement to the set, the costumes were amusingly offbeat, and the animal body language spoke volumes. Each beast wore a combination of street clothes offset by telling accessories. A flapping vulture wore black and a red beret. A lumbering rhino wore a cracked leather jacket. The turtle wore a chartreuse biking helmet and an army green backpack as it slogged across stage. The wolf cubs wore pants with fur knee patches and hoods with fuzzy pompoms and chattered incessantly in yips and yelps that surely wore their throats dry. Bagheera, played with sultry body language and ferocious petulance by the ever versatile Alan Poindexter, used his shiny black hood to convey his mood. Sherakhan stalked and leapt and intimidated his foes with spiked leather gloves.
Biniam Tekola played Mowgli with the physical dexterity necessary of a boy who thinks he is an odd looking wolf. Two small parts showcased the power of a cameo. Eddie Tucker played Hathi the elephant with gusto and humor and an excellent Rastafarian trunk substitute. And in a slithery piece of stage domination, Kimberly Watson Brooks rolled her eyes, and hissed her way across the stage in a snakeskin body suit that provided an eyeful of candy for the dads (and I dare say the high school set) in the audience.
With Jungalbook, Childrenís Theatre did what it does best. It captured the imagination of three year olds to seventy year olds and provided an hour of escape from the urban jungle.
Lynn Trenning, March 18, 2002