by SOPHIE KERMAN and ANNA ROSENSWEIG
“The Little Prince,” the classic French children’s-book-for-adults by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, is all about growing up — and how important it is not to. Joshua Busick’s recent one-man adaptation at the Bryant Lake Bowl Theater earnestly adopts this love of childhood curiosity as its premise. With a trunk full of props and an arsenal of well-edited sound effects at his disposal, Busick’s stage persona shifts rapidly between the grown-up aviator and the naive Little Prince, as well as a host of other colorful interplanetary characters. At its most successful, this rapid shifting produces an infectious energy that can easily transport audience members back to their days of childhood make-believe. Busick encourages this sense of play by asking for volunteers to help him illustrate important moments in the story. A talented and versatile performer, Busick is easy to watch, and we could picture him doing the same routines for both an audience of skeptical adults and a roomful of eager children.
Busick’s imagination and free-form improvisatory style – at times his greatest strengths as a performer – sometimes feel in need of an editor, with gags that outlast their moment of whimsy or surprise. While some of Busick’s use of props is inspired (a box of Christmas bows to represent a rosebush, for example), at other times his overflowing supply of scarves and hats seem to hide his talent as an actor rather than allow it to shine through. In a few cases, we wished the props had been used to more clearly signify when Busick speaks as the aviator-narrator and when he speaks as the Little Prince. At first, Busick-as-aviator speaks to the Little Prince using a bell and other sound devices to indicate when his invisible interlocutor laughs or cries. Later in the show a member of the audience stands in for the Little Prince with a navy-blue jacket and bright yellow scarf out of Busick’s trunk. Finally, Busick himself plays the role of Little Prince sans jacket and scarf. Any one of these cues would have been enough to signal the presence of the Little Prince, but the three combined were sometimes hard to follow.
One of the greatest strengths of the book is its tightly-written narrative, with plain language whose imaginative storyline comes off as effortlessly persuasive. In contrast, Busick’s very eagerness to please sometimes runs counter to the easy charm of the story. His asides encourage the audience to have fun with him, but they often break his spell. Even we grown-up children don’t always need that much prompting. After all, we come to the theater because we want to believe.