‘The Cerulean Time Capsule’ at The United States Botanic Gardens

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I had the great pleasure this weekend of exploring the United States Botanic Garden with my three boys, who are 10, 8, and 6. It was a first for all of us and you would think we had gone to the Hogwarts Herbology Greenhouse for all the excitement and wondrous praise they exuded over those magnificent plants. We admired the nature of Hawaii, the world’s deserts, the Jungle, and even a primeval display of a recreated Jurassic landscape with plants that have been around for over 150 million years. But, as if exploring the beauty that is considered America’s living museum of plants is not enough, we were also taken on a fast-paced, high energy “tour” of the gardens that left my children raving about the experience for hours after we were gone.

US Botanical Gardens. Photo by Rachel Cooper.
US Botanical Gardens. Photo by Rachel Cooper..

The “tour” was in fact a world premiere Kennedy Center co-commission with the U.S. Botanic Garden. Titled The Cerulean Time Capsule, this special site-specific performance, written by Jonathan Shmidt Chapman and Drew Petersen, and Directed by Drew Petersen introduces the history of the US Exploring Expedition of the South Seas, known as the Wilkes Expedition. The expedition collected countless cultural artifacts, living plants and seeds, dried specimens of plants and animals, and fossils which are said to have been the start of what are now the Smithsonian Institution and the U.S. Botanic Garden. The creative team of Jacy Barber, Michelle Kozlak, Harry Poster, Will Wermerskirchen, and Teresa Wood invite the audience on an adventure to discover the mythical 4th plant that is suspected to be hidden on display, along with the three well-known plants that can be seen today at the US Botanical Garden from this expedition well over a century ago.

The journey begins with a short informative video that summarizes the history of Wilkes’ voyage, which was the first discovery expedition launched by the United States,  and suggests that perhaps a fourth plant may have survived and been secretly on display for all of the 170 years since Wilkes first began his adventure. The engaging character of Benjamin Peale then appears and whisks the audience off on a journey to no one really knows where, but in a terrible rush.

From there on it is a game of keep-up. The energetic Benjamin Peale, played by Andrew Ross Wynn, who declares himself to be from the future, engages the audience on a secret mission which takes them to all corners of the Conservatory of the Botanical Garden, searching for the mythical Cerulean Time Capsule. Along the way, they discover Wilkes’ other three surviving specimens as well as many other wonders of the Garden but Benjamin never lingers long enough to catch too good of a glimpse of the plants for they are on a mission!

Eventually they cross paths with Benjamin’s present self, played by Aaron Bliden, and the show takes on a fantastically silly turn fraught with quick quips and clever botany humor. Ultimately, the adventure concludes and the audience is entrusted with their own secret, but you must seek out the Garden to experience that for yourself

The performance is fun and fast-paced. A fantastic way to engage the younger generation and spark their interest in the wonders and beauty of nature and all of the potential secrets it can share.

Running Time: 30 minutes, with no intermission.

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The Cerulean Time Capsule plays through October 25, 2015 at the U.S. Botanic Garden in Washington, DC – 100 Maryland Avenue, SW, in Washington, DC. Tickets are free and can be reserved on-site the day of the performance. You can also pre-register online. Audiences are limited to groups of 12 and are reserved on a first-come first-serve basis.