Just as the massive BP oil slick makes its deadly way to wreak man-made havoc with the flora and fauna of the U.S. Gulf Coast, the timing of Gail Bowen’s cautionary tale of vanishing species couldn’t have been better planned.
Timing, too, was the hallmark of director Pablo Felices-Luna’s production, which sailed into the Sullivan Mahoney Theatre for a pair of performances on May Day. (That coincidental metaphor seemed entirely apt.)
From being individually greeted at the door by heart-of-gold, career-choice-challenged Sweet Solomon Bunch (Kevin Hobbs, forever changing the tenor and tone of "Harvard"—a law school for reformed crooks!) to the zany antics of Hyacinth Macaw (Monica Dufault gobbled up the invigorating part and spat out her exclamatives —“KOALA!”—in a manner that was likely smiled upon by Victor Borge from his piano-gag emporium in the sky), the show moved along at a pace that seldom flagged, largely capturing the attention of the young Buccaneers as they held on tight to their gleaming doubloons.
Macaw’s empty-glass magical “revealer” (the clearly unscientific instrument consistently brings into light what has always been staring everyone in the eye) is a wonderful summation of how anyone could become part of the planet’s solution. Sadly, the epidemic of willful blindness by those who should know better shows no sign of diminishing (see corporate “gusher” above).
For the uninitiated, Lonesome George (Solitario Jorge) is an actual type of Galápagos tortoise clinging to the endangered species list. Bowen’s rescue-play sees two very different boys enlisted in the quest to save a pair of creatures from becoming Tortoise McNuggets (perhaps the least successful of many funny lines—like the “GST”—cheap laughs, thankfully overshadowed by much richer yuks elsewhere in the script).
Colin Doyle plays Jess, a horn-rimmed nerd whose best friend and constant companion is Charlie—a joined-at-the-shoulder squirrel whose unintelligible “language” is amazingly in sync (Lyon Smith, sound design) and easily understood. Doyle gives a wonderful performance. From the forward thrust of his upper jaw (at one with Harold from Red Green fame) to an engaging sense of honest, naïveté in his delivery, Jess comes to endearing life.
H.D., the coolest guy in the world, deftly boards hacky sacks with skill and goes about his metamorphosis from Me-I to You-Us thanks to the considerable acting chops and physical dexterity of Jeff Giles. Without these actors’ deceptively easy interaction and nuanced voices, this key transformation would have been more understood than felt. (During the post-performance Q&A, the notion of helping a friend was a significant learning experience to a very young audience member, who, with a spontaneous hug, demonstrated without doubt how to “walk your talk.”)
Doing double duty, Dufault sported a squirrel of her own and terrorized all comers (with or without shells) as Mad Esmerelda Brilliant—Queen of the Pirates. Only in the big fight scene did the writing slightly sputter. Switching without a single objection from swordplay to hacky sack kick off seemed just too neat to convince. Still, Dufault showed slashes of brilliance and unrepentant treachery at every turn (not dissimilar to the curious choice of Sweet Sol’s passionate desire to become a lawyer even as many of their number recently brought the world to its financial needs, echoing the “slick oil” that promises to do the same).
Let’s hope this play has hundreds of performances in schools everywhere, while there are still so many varieties of Lonesome Georges to be saved. Since we didn’t get the message, it will fall to our children to pick up the slack. Plays like Bowen’s—a marvellous starting point for a much wider discussion—are more necessary than ever. JWR