The story Sonja Parks so colorfully enacts in “Seedfolks” grows out of gritty urban ground. She tells the tale of healing and restoration with agility, empathy and a whole lot of heart.
Paul Fleischman adapted his own children’s book for this one-person play, directed by Peter Brosius and designed by Jorge Cousineau (set and projections), Sonya Berlovitz (costumes) and Paul Whitaker (not-bright-enough lights).
The one-hour one-act, which premiered over the weekend at the Children’s Theatre and which is recommended for older children, is set in a rough patch of Cleveland that has functioned like, as one of the characters says, a hotel. People stay for as long as necessary before moving on. The neighborhood has turned over from immigrant whites to migrating blacks to a new batch of immigrants from Asia and Latin America, even as people remain from the earlier waves. In other words, it’s a mosaic of America, full of accents and different backgrounds.
“Seedfolks” orbits an abandoned lot where a Vietnamese girl plants beans in memory of her father. An older Romanian neighbor who has been watching out her window thinks that she spies illegal activity. The neighbor comes down to investigate and begins to dig up the ground.
False assumptions give way to truth. Cold, isolated distrust turns to warmth as people who are hardened and suspicious show tenderness and begin to build, with the help of an older Jewish man, a true community.
The urban farm at the heart of the play helps in the healing of a neighborhood.
We see all of this vividly because of Parks’ theatrical gifts, which are on display throughout the show. The actor plays 11 major characters, using accents, gestures and attitude to distinguish her finely drawn characters. You see the walk of the Jewish man, the gentle determination of the Korean girl, the seen-it-all ennui of a white janitor. Parks is not delivering caricatures by any stretch. She portrays her characters in “Seedfolks” with understanding even as the show offers evidence of her ample stage gifts.
Perhaps the scene that best crystallizes her lyricism takes place during a party. As she moves to syncopated, Latin-inflected music, Parks switches dramatic personas on the beat. Her quicksilver turns from an aged Latin lover to a spirited woman are flawless.
Choreographed by Joe Chvala and featuring recorded music composed by Victor Zupanc, “Seedfolks” is a show about origins and about hope. But it also is about an artist who is doing some lovely blooming of her own onstage.