by Rebecca Rudnyk
Valley Youth Theatre has done it once again. This lovely little theatre company that provides a forum for young people to develop and hone their skills continues to show its range, and tear down the stigmas that often shadow children’s performances. This is not a middle or high school school production. These kids care. They don’t just care. They aren’t just going through the motions. They are laying their hearts out on the stage every night. They are serious about our forum. They are planning their future theatre careers, and ambitiously working towards those goals. And because of them, I am confident that our beloved forum will continue.
The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane is unlike anything I have yet experienced at VYT. It feels different. It plays differently. Although the story revolves around a children’s toy, the subject matter touches on some quite mature themes. Childhood illness. Grieving parents. Homelessness. Alcoholism and domestic abuse. All struggles that serve to help Edward evolve.
Based on the book by Kate DiCamillo, and adapted for the stage by Dwayne Hartford, Childsplay’s Artistic Director, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane is the story of a china doll. A china rabbit, to be precise. He begins his life as a superficial young toy, unaware of how fortunate he is to be truly and unconditionally loved. When he is forced out of his comfortable home, he discovers the suffering and discomfort of humanity. It is a coming of age story, with a unique twist. Full of lessons that are not only wonderful for children, but important reminders for all of us.
Many of the 15 cast members play multiple parts, including Jordan Baker who plays the show’s narrator Pellegrina. Pellegrina has Edward made for her granddaughter, Abilene, and he is given as a very special gift to the young girl who is lonely and in need of a friend. But Edward’s inability to reciprocate Abilene’s adoration causes Pellegrina to set forth a series of events. Baker delivers a stellar performance, physically shifting from narrator into bent and weathered elderly woman, and back again. Additionally, Andy Wissink is magnificent as Edward. Wissink flawlessly shifts from absolutely unlikeable and slightly annoying to adorable to absolutely charming. At one point in the story, he is a marionette, a puppet on strings. The physicality displayed in those moments were some of my favorite of the entire show. Arms flailing, legs dancing voraciously. Wissink genuinely seemed suspended in air and it was delightful to behold.
The rest of the cast is also quite delightful. Emily Jacoby is adorable as Lucy the dog, and Faith Wheelington delivers an incredibly powerful performance as Nellie. The sets and lighting, though simple and not overstated, are a powerful backdrop to the story. And the costumes are absolutely stunning.
Edward Tulane is a brilliant step for VYT to take. It is impactful to the youngest audience members, wide-eyed as they watch magic unfold only feet away from them, while also conjuring up emotional responses for the grown ups in the room. This is a show that will leave a lasting impression on everyone who experiences it. And in the end, that is what art is truly about. Opening our eyes, making us feel, and leaving us thinking.
The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane ran through today at Valley Youth Theatre. Next up for the players of VYT is Tuck Everlasting coming in April. Tickets can be purchased from the VYT website.