Review: “The Velveteen Rabbit” (Lifeline Theatre)

(L to R) Jamie Cahill as the Velveteen Rabbit and Christopher Acevedo as the Boy Photo by Suzanne Plunkett.
(L to R) Jamie Cahill as the Velveteen Rabbit and Christopher Acevedo as the Boy
Photo by Suzanne Plunkett.

Show: The Velveteen Rabbit

Company: Lifeline Theatre

Venue: Lifeline Theatre

Die Roll: 4

As a child, I really enjoyed tales of toys that became real and imaginary friends who were more real than the grown-ups knew.  I think that the realm of pretend is a wonderful place to revisit years later, too.  And so, as I sat in the audience of Lifeline Theatre’s production of “The Velveteen Rabbit”, I was prepared for a nostalgic ride through a once familiar tale.

First let me be clear that this production is acted by adults for children.  It does not feature any kids performing.  If it did, I would not review it, as I don’t see educational theater as a product that should be reviewed by any other than the teachers.  Instead, I approach this specific production as not only a theatre artist, but also a father (although it’s been a few years since my daughter would have viewed this show through any lens other than a nostalgic one herself).

This is the familiar tale of a boy who receives a new toy for Christmas.  The new toy replaces old favorites.  Over the subsequent year the new toy becomes old.  And eventually, due to a severe illness, the toy must be burned in a bonfire to eliminate germs.  Somehow this results in the stuffed toy becoming “real”.  Love is the cited cause.

Were I to want to take a child to this show, I would want them to be in the 1st – 3rd grade age range.  Basically, the kid needs to be young enough to still believe in Santa for this play to resonate with them.  But, they also need to be old enough that they can look back at being younger than they are now and realize what they used to do.  I say that because there are lines in the show that directly reference how badly children treat their belongings.  And the line comes off as a lecture to be ignored.  That is, unless they are old enough to look at younger kids and realize that it’s true.  After all, even at a young age we have an easier time looking at the faults of others than of ourselves.

The play itself was fun enough.  It clocked in at just under an hour, and the actors were all very energetic.  It was a show that clearly captured the imagination of the children seated near me.  Some even talked back to the actors.  So, I think Lifeline knows its audience well.  For me, though, the mark of a truly great bit of children’s fare is that it needs to be able to entertain the adults that have to come with the kids, too.  Disney and Looney Tunes have mastered that for decades, so have The Muppets.  The scripts are written for adults, and happen to entertain children equally well.  This isn’t the case with Elise Kauzlaric’s adaptation of the Margery Williams classic here.  The script was dumbed down in a way that I often resent in children’s theatre, largely because it assumes that children need things dumbed down for them (Kids are often smarter than people give them credit for).  The method of acting was sort of shouty.  The characters seldom seemed to connect with each other.  As I sat there, I often found myself thinking, “Oh! I see what they were trying to do there.”

Jamie Cahill did do an admirable job as the Rabbit.  She managed to both be very animated when it was called for, and completely convincingly inanimate when her boy (played by Christopher Acevedo) was around.  Mykele Callicutt, who plays the Skin Horse, was quite good at bringing forth two completely different characters, as he took a turn as one of the real bunnies that the Rabbit encounters when left outside.  The rest of the cast suffered from seemingly having been told that if they’re loud, that would be good.  Character choices were difficult to discern, and that is disappointing.

On the whole, I believe that the children who were from about 6 to 9 years old enjoyed the show a lot.  The younger ones had to ask a lot of questions throughout to understand what was going on.  For those of us who were older and familiar with the story, rereading the book probably would have been better, but it’s a kids show and the kids weren’t complaining.  I recommend the show, if you have little ones in the right age set.

TEN WORD SUMMARY: Wear and tear causes a stuffed rabbit to become real.

RATING: d8 “Not Bad, Not Great”