BY TAMAR NEUMANN: The Children’s Theatre Company is known for commissioning new works for younger audiences. They have commissioned over 200 plays in their long history and they continue to add to that number every season. This season they have chosen to adapt Paul Fleishman’s book Seedfolks into a short (a little over an hour) one-woman show. The book has promising themes; it’s about a young girl in an immigrant neighborhood who decides to plant some lima bean seeds in honor of her dead father. Her actions end up bringing the whole community together. People from diverse backgrounds grab a piece of vacant lot and grow vegetables, and, as they do that, their sense of community grows. They focus less on diversity and more on helping each other. It’s a deceptively simple story that carries a deep message about coming together and overcoming outward differences.
The CTC’s version, directed by Peter C. Brosius, manages to get that message across despite its lackluster production. Brosius, known for other plays such as The Scarecrow and His Servant, and Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy, pares this show way down. The set is simple—the only things on stage are some boards that indicate apartment buildings and a vacant lot. The simplicity of the set helps keep the focus on Sonja Parks, the sole performer of the show. Rather than creating a world for the audience to be a part of, this production forces the audience to use their imaginations, which, in turn, makes it easier to believe Parks could be any race and any gender.
In addition to the simple wooden boards the set includes a few visual screens set up to help the audience imagine the scene. Unfortunately, those computer animated visuals do little to enhance the play and, many times, detract from the poignant moments. I found myself frequently wishing there were cardboard cut-outs of brick buildings surrounding the boards instead of this intrusive attempt to use technology. Rather than encouraging the use of imagination it made it difficult to transition between what was on the screen and what you were being asked to imagine during Parks’ performance.
Despite the awkward visuals, Brosius still shows his masterful hand at bringing a play to life. While there is only one actor on stage, there is not a dull moment in the play. The pacing is just right, the music accents at the perfect moments, and the ending ties everything together sweetly, but not too overbearingly. Brosius knows exactly how to entertain and (without them really noticing) educate his young audiences.
Seedfolks would not be as successful without Parks. She gives each character his/her own voice and personality. When you watch her on stage you know you are watching a master of the craft. She easily slips between accents (and there are many accents, all very different), gender, and race without batting an eye. At one point she interacts with the audience without slipping from her character. Each character’s story is both touching and hilarious and she manages to play all of the many moments in that character’s truth. Carrying an entire play (even a shorter one) is a difficult task and Parks manages to make it look effortless.
While Seedfolks may not change your life, or even make you ponder too deeply, it will lift your spirits and remind you of the basic principle that underneath everything we are all just human beings.
Seedfolks, adapted from the book by Paul Fleischman. September 30-November 16, 2014 at the Children’s Theatre Company, 2400 3rd Ave. S., Minneapolis. Tickets: $10 and up; purchase tickets at www.childrenstheatre.org or 612.874.0400.