Written by CJ Burroughs, December 10, 2018
I’ve gotta admit — as my six-year-old daughter and I entered the Chicago Children’s Theatre’s main stage and took our seats, one of us wasn’t having any of it. One of us, of course, remembered the enchanting play we’d taken in there earlier this year, and could not stop talking about that production and the hopes that this one would be every bit as enchanting. The other one of us griped to himself that the seats were too low, that rabbits are pests and definitely should not be named (Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail, or Peter), and that Sunday mornings should not be spent thinking about such things in the first place. And then a bit of magic happened…
That magic came from the Victorian-attired and jauntily British-accented cast of the theatre’s current production, The Beatrix Potter Holiday Tea Party. Welcoming each of the theatergoers, be they little girls in dresses or grumpy dads in baggy-eyed delirium, Lara Carling and Kay Kron began quite the work of transporting us, which is the goal of all good theater, I suppose. They interacted with people, asking them about animals and school and the like. They smiled. They promised that once the play was over, we’d be able to play with whatever things their play would utilize. And then they took the stage, surrounded by closed trunks and cylinders and boxes and backed by Ray Rehberg and his one-man orchestra of stringed instruments and electronic gadgets. And the play began.
In each of the three stories that Carling, Kron, and Rehberg told us (all three based on beloved tales by Victorian magic-maker, Beatrix Potter), said trunks and boxes and cylinders were opened to reveal characters and settings rendered in the style of those beloved Potter books. Mrs. Tittlemouse. Mr. Jackson, the toad. Squirrel Nutkin. Old Brown, the owl. Mr. McGregor. And that rascally rabbit, Peter. Through the use of hand-cranks and props, sound effects and song, each of these well-known characters came to life and their stories kept us all — old and young alike — entranced until the end.
And in the end, after the children rushed the stage to touch and feel the things they had just seen, we were ushered back into the theater’s lobby for hot cocoa and cookies. And, I’ve gotta admit, we enjoyed those Sunday morning treats, the both of us, with smiles on our faces at the wondrous tales we’d just been told.