by Lynn on May 16, 2022

in The Passionate Playgoer

Streaming on demand from Young People’s Theatre, Toronto, Ont. until June 30, 2022.

Written and directed by Herbie Barnes

Set and costumes by Anna Treusch

Lighting by Shawn Henry

Composition and sound by Cathy Nosaty

Film and editing by Joshua Hind

Cast: Ziska Louis

Kelisha Daley

Mike Petersen

Russell (Ziska Louis) is a lonely boy with a vivid imagination. He has just moved to a new neighbourhood with his mother. He doesn’t like his new school because he has no friends and hides at recess from others. He’s bullied by one other boy. Russell races home after school and barricades himself in his room by putting a chair against the doorknob. He finds sanctuary there with his teddy bear, book and jacket, all of which talk to him. He says that he has been chased by pirates, hence the barricaded door. His mother is not home yet. He has torn his jacket, again, and he feels his mother will be really angry and Russell is tense about that. I figure Russell is a ‘latch-key-kid.’

If he has fears he amply hides them with an overabundance of energy, enthusiasm and his vivid imagination. He conjures pirates who chase him and thus he tore his jacket. He is corrected by one of his talking ‘friends’ and Russell has to acknowledge that a kid named Tommy Wilson pushed him and so Russell tore his jacket. Russell imagines going into outer space with his teddy bear and book (both played by Kelesha Daley) and bravely fighting pirates and others with a ‘sword’ that looks like a kind of hockey stick. In such instances Russell is fearless and energized. But then he is harangued by the jacket that has a life of its own (Mike Petersen) who chides him for the tear. The bed sheet (Mike Petersen) conspires to overpower him until Russell just wishes he could move back to his old neighbourhood where he was happier.

Anna Treusch’s set design of Russell’s bed room suggests a colourful cartoon of oversized drawers and cupboard etc. His bed is unmade. A drawer is open on his dresser with something hanging out. His cupboard is open and there is stuff laying around. Treusch also designed Russell’s costume of baggy orange pants black top and sneakers and socks.

Director Herbie Barnes has envisioned a larger-than-life world for Russell in which inanimate objects take on a life of their own. There is magical work bringing the jacket and the sheet to imposing life along with the voices that humanize them. Ziska Louis as Russell is always on the move either jumping on the bed, jumping over objects, scurrying here and there, sword in hand, fighting imaginary pirates and never seemingly to slow down.

I must confess I found a lot of Russell’s World troubling. While I can appreciate that director Herbie Barnes has directed Ziska Louise as Russell to be energetic, I found this performance to be more over-wrought than energetic. Also, there is much in Herbie Barnes script that is missing. We are almost 30 minutes into the 40-minute running time, full of adventure and pirates, and frenetic movement without actually knowing why they moved to this new neighbourhood (we’re never told); if there is a father (we’re never told); and what the mother (Kelesha Daley) is like. When she does come home we see that she’s lovely and not at all the angry person she is described as, regarding the jacket.

Herbie Barnes brings up important subjects in the lives of young people: bullying, loneliness, fear, fitting in, abandonment, but he has not explored them fully enough to be satisfying. I think another go-round of investigation in the script would be helpful.

I realize there was a talk-back at the end of the viewing but I don’t watch them to glean what the intention was of the playwright-director. I leave that to the play to illuminate and alas, I found this production fell short of exploring these important issues. Another re-write might be helpful.  

Young People’s Theatre presents:

Runs until: June 30, 2022.

Running time: 40 minutes approx.

For ages 5-10.

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