Rudyard Kipling’s beloved tales of a boy being raised by wolves has a new suit of clothes in this adaptation by Craig Francis and Rick Miller (who also co-directed).
With just a quartet of players, ably and vigourously led by Levin Valayil in the key role of Mowgli, his fellow performers (Mina James, Matt Lucas and Tahirih Vejdani) take on multiple parts as both humans and well-spoken members of the animal kingdom.
Visually aided by a few scrims, deft lighting (Rebecca Picherack) and some imaginative puppetry (Astrid Janson and Melanie McNeill, whose considerable talents also produced an easily adaptable set and reinforcing props), the eye is readily engaged as now-NYC-architect Mowgli relives his formative years via his personal archives: the words, drawings and reminisces of this Jungle Book.
There are a few songs along the journey (composer Suba Sankaran; lyrics from Kipling/Miller/Francis), but none will be whistled on the way out and only Valayil has the vocal chops to sustain anything more than passing interest.
The many children in the opening audience were quietly attentive, but seldom were they inspired to “ooh, ahh, or giggle” to the hopeful delight of their minders (and a “certain-age” critic…).
Having just (hours ago) reviewed Patricio Guzmán’s daunting documentary about how present-day Chile doesn’t seem to have slipped the noose from its sorry past (The Cordillera Dream—cross-reference below), I couldn’t help but wonder why the Young People’s Theatre artistic trust spent so much time speaking more to the adults about inclusion, being me, and getting along when the water runs out (not to mention the “elephant” groaner…), than many of the younger minds in the crowd were able to fathom.
No worries: do take a look for the intended fun and leave life’s lessons for another, more thoughtful day.
Like Guzmán, Kipling knows that it takes many, many messages to make important points in this era of social media as arbiter of truth, justice and values. JWR