Volume 92, Issue 53
Tuesday, December 8, 1998
|ARTS AND ENTERTAINMENT
Wind comes to life in Grand opening
Photo by Elisabeth Feryn
By Jill Sutherly
The opening night performance of The Wind in the Willows marked the beginning of an enchanting love for the dramatic arts.
Children's excited whispers filled The Grand Theatre last Friday evening. Both the young and the young at heart gathered to witness Michael Shamata's adaptation of Kenneth Grahame's enduring children's tale of four river rodents who learn valuable lessons about the rewards of unconditional friendship.
Adapting a classic piece of literature to the stage is always a daunting task. First, the director faces the judgments of those who already hold fond memories of the text. Secondly and perhaps even more significantly, the director has the responsibility of seducing those unfamiliar with the original story. Considering the audience's response to Friday evening's performance, it is clear Shamata has truly risen to both occasions in his delightfully entertaining portrayal of the adventures of Mole, Rat, Badger and Toad.
Reminiscent of Beatrix Potter's tales, Grahame's novel reduces readers to the eye level of small riverbank-dwellers and in doing so, brings the audience closer to childhood. While Potter tended towards fluffy bunnies, Grahame chose to personify the lives of conventionally despised rodents who later went on to become some of the most cherished characters in children's literature.
The story chronicles the adventures of four rodent bachelors as they attempt to hold their friendship together through the trials and tribulations presented by the Wild Wood and its residing creatures, all the while confirming the value of community and camaraderie.
The spectacle came off flawlessly, as the cast was poised and polished. Most notable perhaps was the brilliant performance by Cliff Saunders as the senseless and ridiculous Toad. His manner of romping around the stage in his frog flippers was a sight of sheer hilarity. The story line itself is refreshingly comedic, only enhanced by the characters' proper British accents.
While the main characters' costumes do not attempt to hide the actors' humanity, each wears an appropriate tail and pays genuine attention to their animal mannerisms. The audience is thus easily swept into believing their portrayal.
The clever set design captures a telescopic effect, as the audience peers into a previously unnoticed world. The minimal, yet beautiful scenes justifiably enhance the play's underlying message of the importance of life's simple pleasures
The play, at two hours, was perhaps a little lengthy for a children's presentation, as youngsters were beginning to fidget in their seats near the end. Otherwise, Wind in the Willows moved on at a reasonable pace, ending as quietly as it began.
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