Review: ‘The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane’ at Imagination Stage By Julia Exline

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Imagination Stage presents The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, a stage adaptation Kate DiCamillio’s award-winning novel. The story follows a china toy rabbit through the era of America’s Great Depression and covers a sweeping landscape, from America’s deep south all the way to New England and back. Janet Stanford directs this production, and while it is a touching, well-executed piece that is full of interesting history, and times, it was difficult to watch.

Bull, (Tia Shearer) drifter, introduces Edward to his dog (Jaysen Wright). Photo by Noe Todorovich.

Bull, (Tia Shearer) drifter, introduces Edward to his dog (Jaysen Wright). Photo by Noe Todorovich.

Musical Director Brandon McCoy voices the thoughts of Edward, a magnificent rabbit doll made from the finest Parisian china and fur (designed and constructed by Rachel Anne Healy and Timothy Mann). His extravagant beginnings make for a snobbish character in Edward; selfish and vain, he is more concerned with his fine clothing than the troubles of those around him. Gifted to a girl named Abilene who loves him dearly, Edward takes his fine life for granted…until he finds himself lost overboard on an ocean liner, and begins a tumultuous journey that shows him life’s deepest sorrows, but also teaches him to finally appreciate it’s sweetness.

The plotline takes Edward through a number of tough times, and the technical designers embrace this fact. Scenic Designer Samina Vieth uses faded, white-washed colors and dots the stage with huddles of everyday objects; wooden crates, steamer trunks, and aluminum advertisements are stacked together haphazardly. Throughout the show, items are plucked from the piles and used with great creativity and imagination, from forming a bed out of some strategically-placed props, to waving the metal signs to create the warbling sound of thunder. My favorite had to be the use of a standard black umbrellas, which were opened and closed rapidly to create the illusion of a flock of crows.

Sound Designer Thomas Sowers and Lighting Designer Jason Arnold work nicely together to help Edward through his journey, from the deep rippling ocean waves to rattling along on a high-speed train. Costumer Robert Croghan kept the characters modestly dressed, with several accessory options hidden among the props for the actors to use as they change characters. The overall effect is efficient and professional, but also fairly bleak.

Aside from Brandon McCoy, who plays a number of instruments onstage while voicing Edward’s thoughts, the actors take on a number of different characters throughout the show.

Jaysen Wright shows great range with a number of characters, from a lighthearted hobo named Bull to a solemn fisherman named Lawrence. I most enjoyed his performance as Bryce, a poor farmhand who rescues Edward from a cornfield where he was being used as a makeshift scarecrow. Though Bryce faces an immensely challenging life, he never loses his streak of optimism; an effervescent and welcoming lesson for the audience.

Narrator Tonya Beckman also takes on a number of characters, her most striking being  Abilene’s wise (if a bit shrewd) grandmother, who senses the truth about Edward’s character and cautions him with the tale of “The Princess Who Loved No One,” a scene that is lovely both theatrically and technically. Black-and-white moving pictures, the latest technology at the time, are projected onto the backdrop as she tells the story.

Most of Tia Shearer’s time onstage is used portraying Edward’s first owner Abeline, a kind girl from a wealthy family. She takes turns with a whole host of different characters, from a menacing diner owner to an energetic dog. However, her most memorable character is easily Sarah-Ruth, a sick and abused young girl who finds comfort in Edward when her brother brings him home. The sweet girl falls victim to violent coughing fits, and as she weakly holds a blood-soaked handkerchief aloft in the air, the audience and I sat in a stunned silence. The maturity level needed from the audience is arguable, and a sensitive subject for certain. While Imagination Stage recommends this show for ages 6+, I personally wonder if that is old enough. Death, violence, and harassment are all explored topics, and only you can decide how comfortable you are with this.

After years of separation, Edward (Brandon McCoy) and reunited with Abilene (Tia Shearer). Photo by Noe Todorovich.

After years of separation, Edward (Brandon McCoy) and reunited with Abilene (Tia Shearer). Photo by Noe Todorovich.

The cast all gave great, varying performances, and the technical quality was top-notch.

While the story does have a happy, hopeful ending, I did feel melancholy as I left the theatre. Imagination Stage’s production of The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane is memorable production. If you are looking for a safe place to introduce your children to the harder truths of life, then this is a perfect opportunity to start these conversations.

Running Time: 90 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission.

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane plays through October 30, 2016, at Imagination Stage – 4908 Auburn Avenue, in Bethesda, MD. For tickets, call (301) 280-1660, or purchase them online.

RATING: FOUR-STARS19.gif

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