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Candy Simmons and Matthew Healey in The Little Prince
(Photo © Jeff George)
Children's theater belongs to the avant-garde. Adults prefer elaborate sets to place them in a certain environment, but give a child an empty stage and the young mind fills out the details. The Little Prince follows a young aviator who has crash-landed in the African desert; the landscape is empty, save for a little prince from a faraway planet. While the aviator looks for water and engine parts, the prince gives him more important commodities: life lessons and companionship.

This beautiful tale made Antoine Saint Exupery beloved among children in France. Shortly after it was published, the book found its way onto countless adults' shelves around the world. Rick Cummins and John Scoullar's expert adaptation makes the original story come to life with live artwork, puppetry, dance, and movement.

Two actors in white kimonos enter the stage waving streamers to and fro. After their breezy dance is done, we hear the sounds of engines failing as actor Matthew Healey plummets onto the stage. It's an exciting opening for audiences of all ages, and the energy only heightens as the show continues. The aviator despairs in the lonely desert until he meets the prince, who visits him at dusk to hear the music of sunset. The little prince lives on a little planet; in one sequence, he visits the tiniest planet in the universe, home to a tiny man played by a marionette. A red lantern representing the sun flickers on and off above the marionette with each passing day. Thus children in the audience learn principles of astronomy in the form of a stirring visual spectacle while grownups re-learn lessons that they have long forgotten.

Another small planet accommodates a greedy businessman who collects the stars, couting every brilliant dot in the sky and entering the number in the bank. This faceless man wears a gold mask and grabs at every sign of wealth with his four arms. (To mention that an actor situated behind him provides the extra two limbs would prove the author's point about adults' rusty imaginations.) This character looks as lofty and stolid as a Vishnu but is spiritually undeveloped.

Matthew Healey and Candy Simmons
in The Little Prince
(Photo © Jeff George)
A lesser director might have given the businessman a suit and tie, but Christopher Roberts never rests on what's sufficient. The side banister of the house becomes the site of a brief puppet show; a rose springs to life with costumes and movement, and green sock puppets make it seem as if caterpillars are crawling on its stem. Rychard Curtiss' lighting design opens up the modest space: Lights that shine behind the thin side curtains widen the playing area and tiny bulbs behind the rear curtains become a starry landscape.

Roberts has put together a very capable ensemble. Matthew Healey's young aviator has an idealist's gaze as he looks off into the distance with the same awe of the children watching the show. Candy Simmons's Little Prince has a vibrant giddiness. (Children may be confused that a woman is playing the role of a boy, so parents should explain this before the show begins.) Amanda Fekety plays a demure rose with a charming personality and Tim Douglas Jensen fills his many roles with ease and dexterity.

The Double Helix Theater Company launched its summer season this week with two shows -- The Little Prince and Charles Mee's Trojan Women: A Love Story -- playing on different nights in the same space. The Mee play is a dirty retelling of the rape and destruction of ancient Troy. To offer such disparate productions in rep takes no small amount of guts, but in the hands of this troupe, the juxtaposition seems logical.

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