By ROBERT DIGITALE
How do children cope with grief? Can the hurting ones embark on a journey that takes them beyond sorrow to a better life? And what might they need to overcome along the way?
Such questions are prompted by Sonoma State’s University’s production of “The Bluebird,” a modern retelling of a fantasy work by Belgian playwright Maurice Maeterlinck.
Here is a tale for the young at heart; indeed, the production includes two free performances for students in grades kindergarten through high school.
In this adaptation by Alison Farina, we meet Tyler, a boy in England whose father has died and who now is being forced with his mother to move from their home. On Christmas Eve Tyler’s mother must work overnight, so the boy is left in the care of a neighbor woman.
The neighbor turns out to be a fairy. She gives Tyler the chance to go in search of the Bluebird, a mystical creature that can bring happiness back to his family.
Taking the opportunity, Tyler and his dog Tylo set out together on a journey into magical lands, encountering people from both the boy’s past and future. He also meets two fantastic beings, a kindly Light and a villainous Night, one seeking to help him, the other to ensnare him. When Tyler arrives at the Palaces of Night and Luxury, he becomes tempted to forget his quest and to give himself over to those things that please the eye and stomach.
Director Judy Navas writes in notes to the audience that Tyler makes the hero’s journey, evolving from an egocentric person “into a caring, loving and giving human being.” Put another way, the boy changes for the better after he finds hope.
Carlos Rodriguez realistically portrays Tyler as an angry lad, one who is quick to lash out and who fumes at the thought of moving from his home. Over time Rodriguez will help us watch the boy change and begin to care about others.
The show’s highlights include those portraying Tylo, including an actual dog and two actors, Allan Chornak and John Pocklington. The real dog seems energized by its times in the spotlight, but it never barks and it easily goes in an out with several cast members. (I’m guessing the creature is some variation of a Welsh Corgi.)
Among the actors, Chornak gets his share of laughs both as a speaking, two-footed Tylo and later as a bare-chested, diaper-clad Duke of Luxury. In the latter role he works with his cartoonish-shaped duchess, portrayed well by Victoria Saitz, in their buffoonish efforts to sidetrack and capture Tyler.
Natalie Meyers gives a fiendish portrayal of Night. And the show includes effective performances by Olivia Mohr as Tyler’s mum, Rosemarie Kingfisher as the fairy Berylune, Natasha Potts as Light and Mike Acquista as Dr. Berlingo and Dad.
The show’s set by Peter Crompton easily transforms from Tyler’s home to the the magical lands, set off by two collections of childhood paraphernalia, including a striking bust of C-3PO from “Star Wars.” As an added treat, the production includes original music by Celeste Ray of the musical group Four Celtic Voices.
The play will continue at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday at the university’s Evert Person Theatre. For tickets, click here.