The delicacy of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's book is preserved in the Guthrie Theater's lovely "The Little Prince."
It always has been less of a kids' tale than a story for adults trying to remember childhood, which holds true in the adaptation directed by Dominique Serrand of The Moving Company and starring MC compatriots Steven Epp and Nathan Keepers. Epp plays an aviator whose plane crash-lands in a desert, where he meets the title character (Reed Northrup, skillfully using toe-forward steps, his flexible body and an elfin voice to suggest a child). But feel free to assume that every character is an aspect of the aviator and of de Saint-Exupéry himself.
This "Little Prince" begins with a handsome show curtain (the scenic designer is Rachel Hauck) that suggests the aviator's parachute. It gradually lifts to reveal a space that could be an airplane or the interior of a warehouse, cluttered with wooden crates and metal shelves. There, we meet the downed aviator, who is talking about his childhood and who soon encounters the Little Prince. From then on, he becomes the prince's interlocutor, helping share his story — of encounters with a variety of fantastical creatures who teach him about existence — while also living in it.
A key to Serrand's vision is the aviator's opening recollection of a childhood attempt to draw a snake swallowing an elephant, one that adults thought looked more like a hat. If you've read the book, you've seen his drawing already but Serrand lets Epp tell the whole story before revealing the drawing at the end, as a wry punch line. What that means is we have a chance to either fall into the trap of the adults (whose disdain convinced the aviator he was no artist) or to use our imaginations and guess what he might have drawn.
All the stage tricks are similarly simple, like a single feather used to suggest a flock of birds. This "Little Prince" doesn't want to spoon-feed its metaphors to us. It wants us to wonder, to be curious.
That also comes through in the behavior, where movement director Kimberly Richardson often has actors echo each other's gestures to suggest connections between them (you might also notice that when the Little Prince encounters a fox, played by Keepers, he has the same hairdo). Everything is joined in unseen ways, "The Little Prince" insists. Or, as the title character puts it in an encounter with a flower (Catherine Young), "You and me, together. We're 'we.'"
Lamenting his abandoned art career, the aviator stands in for the things children forget on the way to becoming adults. But near the end of this lyrical piece, a pas de deux between the Prince and the aviator holds out hope that it may be possible for us to remember them again.
'The Little Prince'
Who: Adapted by Rick Cummins and John Scoullar from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's story. Directed by Dominique Serrand.
When: 7:30 p.m. today, 7:30 p.m. Tue., 1 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Wed., 7:30 p.m. Thu. Ends Feb. 5.
Where: 818 S. 2nd St., Mpls.
Protocol: Masks required at Sunday performances only.
Tickets: $31-$80, 612-377-2224 or guthrietheater.org.