Theater review: Follow the laughter in the stars to Pendragon’s ‘The Little Prince’

A lot of children’s stories aren’t just for children and Pendragon Theatre’s summer production of “The Little Prince” is no different. Based on the classic story by Antoine de Saint- Exupry and adapted by Rick Cummins and John Scoullar, “The Little Prince” takes on the weighty task of reawaking imagination and keeping dreams alive. Lovers of the book should be pleased with how gently the adaptation has been handled, while anyone unfamiliar will be taken on a stellar journey to watch magic unfold.

I’ve always loved the book of the Little Prince and the lost Aviator who regains his sense of childlike wonder. When I saw the production with my 11-year-old child I wondered how such a multigenerational audience, ranging in age from infancy to seniors, would react to a story that doesn’t just deal with imagination, but touches upon death. Directed by Matt Sorenson, this production of the “The Little Prince” opts for a delicate touch rather than more flamboyant display.

As with most fables, “The Little Prince” is a challenging genre that when successfully produced will provide a star-filled fantasy for the young ones while unlocking the sky for everyone else to remember “all grown-ups were once children.” Sorensen manages to accomplish both within the 90-minute show.

No curtain shields the stage from the audience so the stark desert landscape and downed plane, by award-winning scenic designer Tijana Bjelajac, immediately transports us to the Sahara Desert where the story begins.

The unnamed Aviator/Narrator, played by Jason Amrhein, crashes in the Sahara and as he tries to fix his airplane before running out of the water, recounts how his first attempt at sketching was misunderstood by adults. Amrhein’s Aviator is endearing as this beaten-down, disheartened, failed artist.

Now stranded in the desert, he meets a small prince from the planet B-612 who requests for him to draw a sheep. Seventh-grader Noah Cordes is cast well as the blonde, angelic Prince who risks all to follow his dreams. He embodies a character that nurtures the audience whether he is in the present or steps into the past to relay encounters with grown-ups, flowers and animals where he learns about life. Both actors balance each other well as Amrhein plays his character more childlike while Cordes’s Prince is both mature and innocent with his quiet movements and inquisitiveness.

The live-drawing multimedia display is a charming addition for the young audience members. This small touch, which mirrors the book’s original illustrations, is comforting as it lends to the feel that we are watching a book come to life.

This ensemble cast breathes magic into the show, which makes the play appetizing for such a diverse age range. Clare Paulson as the Prince’s rose allows children to dissolve into her magical world while adults feel the thorns of her vain words. Kent Streed stands out with a montage of bit parts of dubious character. With swift costume changes and rapid-fire dialog, Streed plays each new character the Prince encounters on various planets before reaching Earth with just the right amount of nuance.

The costumes are deceptively intricate. Costume Designer Lauren Brennan allows Streed to embody the character of a king, conceited man, businessman, and lamplighter with little more than swirl of cloak and toss of hat.

The use of Black Box puppetry adds to the mystical nature of the production. Shadowed in black, Leslie Dame as the Fox, Snake and part of the Wall of Roses successfully draws the attention away from herself and onto each puppet that surrounds her. It is this use of masterful costumes and puppetry that softens a deadly snakebite to an embrace that transfers the Little Prince back to the heavens. Throughout all Amrhein seamlessly transitions from Aviator to Narrator, pulling the audience back into the pages of the story.

Like most adults, I walked through the door “too busy with matters of consequence,” but left Pendragon Theatre’s production of “The Little Prince” remembering the wise fox’s secret that “anything that is essential is invisible to the eyes.” Pendragon Theatre’s “The Little Prince” is a good-hearted show for anyone looking to find a universe full of imagination and laughter in the stars, for less than the price of a movie ticket.