At a time when so much entertainment for young people is grounded in whiz-bang overstimulation and arcade-level noise, the Children’s Theatre has taken the opposite tack for its latest production.
“The Snowy Day and Other Stories,” which is adapted from Ezra Jack Keats’ children’s books and premiered last weekend in Minneapolis, tells a simple, seasonal tale quietly and with evocative shadow puppetry. And it works, for both adults and its target audience.
Many of the young people at Sunday evening’s performance were on the edge of their seats for the hourlong show, captivated by its interplay of human actors and the shadow puppets they manipulate onstage to show us the explorations of a little boy named Peter.
When the picture book of “Snowy Day” was first published in 1962, it caused a stir at a time when the nation was in the throes of the civil rights movement. The controversy was not just because of the race of its author, who is white, and his protagonist, who is black. The book landed at a time when the publishing industry had even greater issues around diversity and equity than it does today.
This adaptation by playwright Jerome Hairston has a straightforward, urban-set narrative. In the winter, Peter (Mikell Sapp) plays in the snow, experiencing joy as he slides down a hill and loneliness as he tries to join a snowball fight with some bigger kids. In the summer, he watches an adult whistling for his dog. Peter wants to be as commanding, so he tries to whistle, as well, spluttering all over the place. His interest in pooches eventually takes him on an adventure. In the fall, Peter celebrates his birthday, and his own growth.
Actors Joy Dolo and Dean Holt join Sapp to fill out the performance trio directed by Peter Brosius and Italian puppet-master Fabrizio Montecchi. All three actors deliver with inviting warmth and openness.
Sapp, winner of the Ivey Award for outstanding emerging artist, performs with a boot because of a foot injury. But it doesn’t hamper his depiction of Peter. Sapp uses his malleable face, his charm and bright smile to convey vividly the character’s many moods.
Holt, a veteran CTC company member, and Dolo, a protean talent, play and give voice to all the other characters around Peter, from parents to friends and antagonists. They, too, show their emotional transformation almost in slow motion, expressing their characters’ inner lives through their bodies.
Montecchi’s puppets re-create and extend Keats’ original drawings of Peter and his neighborhood. The shadow puppetry, which we experience on Montecchi’s scenic design, is like artwork in a gallery that requires us to take a minute, lean forward and absorb its interplay of light and color.