With any luck, the thoroughly enjoyable production of You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown, currently on the boards on the small stage at Le Petit, will keep holding over long enough for you (and whatever kids you can round up) to catch it. On the afternoon I saw the show, the room was packed, and children from 8 to 80 -- as the old saw goes -- had a ball. Actually, the audience range was more like 3 to 83. There's no too young or too old for Peanuts.
Charles M. Schulz's imagination lies at the heart of the proceedings, of course. The world he created is so full of life, so charming, and so true that one can almost forget how unprecedented it was. Schulz created children who are something like the animal creatures who enact fables: imaginary beings who do not and never could exist, but who are somehow more real than real. Just as the fable creatures are a seamless mixture of animal and human, though really neither, Schulz's children are a seamless mixture of child and adult, though really neither. They are beings who have the magical grace of Shakespeare's fantasy figures, like Puck and Caliban -- but exist in a realm that partakes of our own everyday absurdities, frustrations and obsessions. Never has a simple squiggly line of ink exerted such a spell. If Peanuts is not a cartoon masterpiece, then there is no such thing.
I have to say that the thought of mere flesh-and-blood mortals bringing these enchanted squiggles to life filled me with dread. But my dread vanished almost as soon as the last young actor had entered, replacing the life-size cut-out of the character he was to portray.
The cast ranges in age from an eighth grader to a university student (four of the six are in high school). They all create easy, unforced characterizations and mine the gentle humor of the piece without for one moment becoming "cute." They sing well and bring an ingratiating, upbeat cheer to the simple dance numbers (choreographed by Jauné Buisson).
Michelle Marcotte (Sally), John Haas (Linus), Andrew Larimer (Shroeder), Alex Pomes (Snoopy), Nori Pritchard (Lucy) and Hardy Weaver (Charlie Brown) are the talented troupe. A tip of the hat to Brant Blocker, who is responsible for both the staging and the musical direction, and to Bill Walker for creating the attractive set.
Meanwhile, over at the CAC, performance artist Kathy Randels recently unveiled a major new piece with the timely name Rumours of War. The audience entered the cavernous back-warehouse and took seats in rows of chairs facing a long banquet table, on which lay scattered the remains of a recent feast. We had to step gingerly over what seemed to be the corpses of 19th century revelers. Above the table hung a heavy rope, like a ship's hawser. A string quartet played off to one side. The effect was quite stunning. A white man in 19th century garb (Lucas Cox) then made a graceful, agonized descent onto the table and a scene evolved that suggested a slave revolt and a massacre of the party guests. The first man was joined by his co-conspirator, a black house servant (Roscoe Reddix). A general (John Hammons) ascended a plinth and statue-like pronounced sententious phrases from U.S. presidents through the ages, while his son (J Hammons) fell victim in the doomed feast.
This sequence also featured a variety of activities less obviously connected to the slave revolt, such as a Jewish folk dance and a recitation in Russian of a poem by Osip Mandelstam.
The audience then moved to a second area with a low bare platform between gigantic sheets of blood red cloth. Here we watched a fascinating ballet, done to the accompaniment of drums, the string quartet and a chorus of a cappella voices. A slave mother (Ausettua Amor Amenkum) prepared her daughter (Michelle Marcotte) for ritual sacrifice. The sacrifice was curtailed, however, when the co-conspirators entered with a scarlet cloth -- symbolizing the necessary blood or heart of a victim.
Lastly, the audience was led to a cubicle of bleached Muslim curtains. These were raised to reveal the general's wife (Kathy Randels), who then danced and recited a free-form monologue, which did and did not relate to the preceding sequences. (For instance, we now heard the Mandelstam poem in English -- though of course we had no way of knowing that.)
Rumours of War, according to the playbill, is loosely based on the Louisiana slave revolt of 1811. Loosely is the operative word here; the piece is like a dream one might have after falling asleep in an easy chair, while reading a history book on the period. Edifying? Perhaps not. But haunting and memorable.
- The doctor is in: Lucy (Nori Pritchard) tries to cure the incurable Charlie Brown (Hardy Weaver) in You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown.