by Terrance Mc Arthur
In the wild, life is a struggle between predator and prey. The strong kill and eat the weak. The smaller animal might get away one time, but its future holds a final vision of teeth.
In folklore, the drama has a different ending. The prey outwits the predator, smiling as the defeated Big Bad (Your Un-favorite Carnivore goes here) patches up his wounds.
In The Adventures of Peter Cottontail at Visalia’s Enchanted Playhouse, many familiar stories blend together to tell the story of Peter Rabbit and his battles with a wolf family. Brer Rabbit’s briar patch makes an appearance, the House-of-Bricks Pig’s time-shifting gambit is used, and Hans Christian Anderson’s “Big Claus and Little Claus” becomes a plot source. There’s even “playing possum” with no possums in sight. It’s a festival of the familiar…but that’s a good thing. You can enjoy the old ideas and some clever twists of the new.
The most amazing things about this show are the sets, costumes, and make-up. Richard Morrill has turned the Main Street stage into a verdant garden of trails and greenery that encloses the actors in a wondrous world. You can imagine animals scampering across, popping up, burrowing under, and flitting through this environment…and they do. Barbara Smith’s and Larissa Allen’s costumes transform various-sized actors into quirkily-appropriate creatures of farm and woodland and wind; a woodchuck looks like a construction-worker, a toad sits on a portable lily-pad stool, and .a squirrel wears a hat with perky gray ears on it.
The uncredited make-up helps the faces pop into view and create character; that toad must be slow and thoughtful, this fox must be inventive but not-too-practical, and that rabbit has got to be quick and clever.
Zach McGuire (one of the “tailors” in 2013’s New Clothes for the Emperor) makes a tall, thin Peter Rabbit, a rodent with an existential desire to understand who he is and what his name should be (Yes, the show’s title is a spoiler). He’s agile, clear speaking, cocky, and fun to watch as he manages to slide through small openings in the stage.
Allison Enos was a lovelorn “Little Mermaid,” but here she is a feisty fox in the Granny Clampett mold, browbeating her grandson Reddy Foxx (Levi Mauricio), who hatches many plans that may have been inspired by “The Wile E. Coyote Book of Hunting.” After a while, you almost feel sorry for the hapless
Reddy…until the next time he tries to capture Peter.
Garren Adams as a laconic (but well-balanced) toad, Andrew Rozum as a confused weasel, Sloane Vanciel as a fauxhawked porcupine, and Kristyne Miguel as a skunk with a lot of self-control brighten the stage. Donovan Powers makes a sweet turtle, and the Merry Little Breezes (Inara Ali, McKenna Morgan, and Stefania Sesock) swiftly cross the stage with cues for audience participation.
Larissa Allen and Joanne Cook directed the R. Eugene Jackson script, and the cast seems to enjoy being part of this lighthearted take on the war for species survival that gives hope to the herbivores.
The Adventures of Peter Cottontail runs through May 17 at 307 E. Main St. in Visalia. Tickets range from $5 to $8 for different performances. For more information, go to their KRL event page or their website.
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