Saturday, Jan. 23, 2010

First Stage's Thief Lord

Refreshingly Complex Children’s Play Makes Its World Premiere

By Russ Bickerstaff
Google+ Pinterest Print

First Stage Children’s Theatre continues its season with an accessibly complex show. The play opens with a chase. A pair of orphan brothers—Prosper and Bonafice are on the run from the police. Directed by Jeff Frank, the action takes the audience straight into the play, rushing through the Marcus Center’s Todd Wehr Theatre—in and around a beautifully iconic set by designer Sarah Hunt-Frank. The overall feel of the opening action sets the stage for the rest of the play—it’s stylishly shadowy without actually developing the kind of darkness that would be frightening to children. Prosper and Bonafice are quickly taken-in from the chase by a group of orphan thieves led by the title character—a kid with more than a few secrets.

As the play opens, we are introduced to a particularly well-realized wardrobe by costume designer Pamela Rehberg. The costume design is sharp and simple without looking stagy. The Thief Lord’s birdlike mask and flowing robe could’ve had more detail, but it would’ve taken away from the costume’s overall impact. His friends were all classily dressed as well—most notably the look Rehberg designed for the girl who calls herself Hornet.

Adapted from a book by Cornelia Funke, The Thief Lord is a relatively fast-paced adventure adapted for the stage by actor/playwright James DeVita. The story follows the two orphan brothers as they get caught-up in potentially dangerous events with a group of kids who work for the thief lord. Funke’s plot allows for a refreshing amount of dramatic complexity in the show. The Thief Lord are only stealing for practical reasons. Prosper and Boniface are only working with them because it keeps them fed and protected. They are only on the run from the police because their mother has passed away and only one of them is being adopted. They have run away in the interest of staying together as a family. Every questionable, evidently immoral decision in the story is part of a larger, more complex situation. DeVtia’s script does a brilliant job of crystallizing this complexity for the stage in such a way that makes it ultimately quite accessible, even for the younger kids in the audience. The clever balance of this, developed by Funke and brilliantly framed for the stage by DeVita As a whole, the play is almost sophisticated enough to entertain adults as much as it does children, which is the real measure of classic children’s fare. The story is interesting enough for everyone and there are quite a few twists in the plot, but it all ultimately heads in a very predictable direction.

The Thief Lord’s failure to completely entertain adult audiences isn’t a huge problem. Performances are, by and large, very entertaining. The production rotates between two different children’s casts. Opening night’s “Guardian Angel“ cast put in a really dynamic performance that interacted well with the professional adult actors in the cast. Joe Foust is charming as Victor Getzthe detective hired to track down the brothers. He and Molly Glynn have impressive comic timing. Glynn adds a great deal of fun to the production in the role of a woman who ends up helping the kids out. Drew Brhel is respectably shady in the role of Ernesto Barbarosa—a man who buys the goods the thief lord acquires. Brhel manages to walk the delicate line between being truly villainous and being charismatic.

First Stage’s production of The Thief Lord runs through January 14th at the Marcus Center.

Log in to use your Facebook account with
Express Milwaukee

Login With Facebook Account