Theater for children is tricky. Five-year-olds don’t know – or care – what “theater” is. Nor do they have any preconceived expectations about what they’re “supposed” to see. Thus a good children’s theater company seizes the freedom of this opportunity to create work in which innovation and experimentation can thrive. On the other hand, a great children’s theater company takes this freedom one step further and – through these efforts – provides its young audience with the skills and creativity necessary to face the world. And that’s exactly what the nearly fifty-year-old Pumpkin Theatre has done with its latest effort, The Rainbow Crow.
The Rainbow Crow is an original play written by Pumpkin Company member, Derek Cooper, and is adapted from the Lenape Indian legend of the same name. On the surface the story is simple. A traveling group of songbirds led by the colorful Rainbow Crow arrives to entertain an equally colorful group of animals including an Indigo Owl, an Orange Terrapin, a Yellow Groundhog, and a Violet Coyote. Rainbow Crow is passionate – and a bit pompous – about her beautiful voice, therefore she doesn’t understand it when – instead of listening to her sing – the other animals become distracted by the world’s first appearance of snow or, as it’s called, “fluffy white rain.” But, as the snow threatens to engulf the entire animal kingdom, it’s up to Rainbow Crow to leave on a treacherous journey to find a powerful and quirky spirit known as the Creative Thinker and discover a solution to save herself and her friends.
But that’s only on the surface. With enough quips and cultural references to keep older pre-teens and adults engaged, the narrative fits well with Pumpkin’s 2015/2016 theme of “coming together.” For, bubbling beneath the fun and fast moving action, is a story of how the power of insight and self-sacrifice can lead to respect, harmony, and a world of new possibilities. As Rainbow Crow states at her revelatory moment – a moment that brought a tear to these reviewers’ eyes – “I’ve focused my entire heart and mind on singing. But I’m realizing that just creating something, even something that’s beautiful and you truly love, isn’t enough… unless it can make things better for others.”
As adults, it was interesting for us to observe the children in the audience to see if they were absorbing, at least at some level, the nuances that we were. And for a couple of moments we weren’t actually sure they were getting it. But our fears were calmed when all the actors came out at the end of the performance to sign autographs for the children, a wonderful tradition that Pumpkin does at every show. While all the cast members were definitely acknowledged by their young audience, it was the line that formed for Rainbow Crow’s autograph that gave us our answer. The children had shared the journey with her. This – indeed the most difficult of all theater audiences to please – had in fact been with her the entire time.
Kudos are then in order for the entire cast and production staff. In addition to the writer, Derek Cooper, special mention must go to Mandee Ferrier Roberts for the play’s original music and accompaniment. Wil E. Crowther’s inventive and expressive costume design was top-notch, Helen-Garcia-Alton’s lighting, especially the falling “fluffy white rain,” had the children in awe, and the direction of Courtney Proctor – who saw her first play at Pumpkin when she was three – pulled it all together. Color, movement, light and sound all had the young audience engrossed from the moment they entered the theater.
The cast of nine was fun and engaging. Bobby Harris found the proper gravity in the role of the Indigo Owl; Cedric Gum gave us a fun mix of quirky, soulful and wise as the Creative Thinker; and Samy Hayder showed just the right amount of smarminess as Violet Coyote. If, however, the script had provided more of a transitional moment for him before he became the true villain, it would have made his conversion at the end more of a moment.
The show, however, is carried on the very capable shoulders of Caelyn D. Somerville as Rainbow Crow. As reviewers we are always pleased to see theater companies that go the extra mile in casting actors who can sing as opposed to singers who they hope can act. With Ms. Somerville you definitely get both and, while the primary audience for Pumpkin is ages 3-7, she and all involved in the production of The Rainbow Crow provide a wonderful hour of afternoon entertainment for every age.
Running Time: One hour with no intermission.
The Rainbow Crow plays though December 6, 2015 at Pumpkin Theatre, performing at Har Sinai Congregation – 2905 Walnut Avenue, in Owings Mills, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (410) 902-1814, or purchase them online.