by Bryan Willis
I’m going to write about Olympia Family Theater’s superb production of “The Girl Who Swallowed a Cactus” from two perspectives: 1. Drama Dude & 2. Parent.
Let’s start with the excellent production, exquisitely designed with consistently engaging work by the ensemble of 12 adult and kid actors. It can be difficult to pinpoint strong direction but in the case of “Cactus,” it’s clear we’re in the highly capable hands of Rebecca Rogers, who has an impressive record of working with actors of all ages. The production is an impressive integration of the design, acting and script, pacing, blocking in the friendly confines of the OFT stage — everything is working here and the Audience was engaged throughout the 50-minute production.
I hesitate to highlight any one production element because the lighting, props, sound, animal masks and costumes (not to mention the rock-solid stage management, though I’m compelled to point this out because no critic EVER acknowledges this crucial theatrical role) are fantastic.
Congrats to OFT and new Artistic Director Lily Raabe for raising the proverbial bar and presenting this gift to our community.
This is a story of a group of kids who discover an all-important connection and value to the natural world. It’s a compelling tale for all ages, including those of us who belong to a generation that has failed to do the heavy-lifting of making the earth (air, water, soil, you name it) a better place. The themes here are timely and I salute the playwright’s call to action.
The challenge of Eric Coble’s script, originally produced as a one-person story hour disguised as a play (a conceit we’re seeing at all levels of theater from Edinburgh to Seattle Rep) is transforming a monologue into a fully-realized drama. The vast majority of the story is delivered as exposition from a single storyteller and we’re fortunate here because Susana Bailén Acevedo is outstanding in this role.
However, the play works best when . . . it’s a play and the story is conveyed by the ensemble. All of this means the story takes a whole lot of explaining before it begins and the dramatic action, so wonderfully delivered by the ensemble, is constantly interrupted by the monologist. Good thing Ms. Acevedo is a terrific monologist and, again, the design elements provide a visual feast throughout.
The mark of any successful production can be measured by how long the Audience lingers in the lobby. It’s as if they don’t want to step away from the magic of the production by leaving the venue. Suffice it to say the lobby was full and very much alive after the show. Also, I love the practice of meeting the actors, still in costume, after shows intended for kids, where we can see the coyote without his mask (Jordan Richards is a treasure) and wallow in communal glory.
And now a note for parents or anyone bringing kids to the show, which is billed as appropriate for ages 5 and up.
This one can be scary and on the verge of suggesting an environmental apocalypse. True? Yes. Might your five-year-old crap their pants or have a little trouble sleeping for the next month? Possibly. Also, a group of kids sneaking into a scary stranger’s truck for a long ride to the desert is concerning even if the trusted narrator repeats “This is a bad idea.” How much info is too much info and at what age do we deliver bad news about the big picture? Dear Audience, I leave that to your own discretion, but I’m compelled to mention this as a caveat to this outstanding show.
Photos by David Nowitz.
The Girl Who Swallowed a Cactus
7 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 3 p.m. Saturday-Sunday through March 26
Olympia Family Theater, Olympia Family Theater, 612 Fourth Ave. E., Olympia