'Walking the Tightrope' Enchants Both Kids and Grown-Ups Alike at 24th Street Theatre
24th Street Theatre's resident experimental theatre company LAb24 is performing an entirely enchanting rendition of Mike Kenny's children's theatre work Walking the Tightrope . Set in a quaint British seaside village during the 1950s, Kenny's script follows Esme (a young girl) and her Granddad Stan as they come to terms with the death of her grandmother. Attempting to spare Esme grief, Granddad initially tells her that her grandma has joined the circus as a tightrope walker.
As the characters create new norms for their family, the play touches upon themes such as growing up, life changes, home, family, tradition, and longing. Under the direction of Debbie Devine, Walking the Tightrope is funny, sweet, moving, and perfectly enjoyable for both adults and little ones over the age of six.
Walking the Tightrope sets the bar high for quality children's theatre. The production is full of memorable, cadenced moments that waft through the dialogue, echoing the ocean waves of the play's setting. Children seem to relate to this work on an intuitive, knowing level as Kenny clearly understands their capacity for sophisticated empathy and feeling, regardless of naivete. Walking the Tightrope is often seen through the eyes of Esme, who undoubtedly opens up precious recollections of being relatively new to the world with proclamations such as "I want to get married one day, but only for the big cake!" Don't let the term "children's theatre" scare you away from this production. It is brimming with enough stratified metaphors, period details, and meaningful context to keep any sophisticate quite happy.
The cast is lead by two endearing actors, Mark Bramhall and Paige Lindsey White. As Esme, White brilliantly emulates a young girl through observant nuance, genial comedic timing, and exhilarating enthusiasm. Her grasp of youthful intricacy is utterly perfect. Her effervescence and obvious understanding of childhood spellbinds school-aged theatre patrons. Infusing the role of Granddad Stan with poignancy, delicately controlled heartache, and lots of subtle complexity, Bramhall gives our favorite performance of the production. His deeply emotive delivery is penetratingly beautiful, particularly with the enchantingly line "On the outside she looked like an ordinary woman, but on the inside was the heart of a tightrope walker."
Devine's direction of Walking the Tightrope meets the attention spans of children but its complex enough for adult patrons. The entire 70-minute production is loaded with charm and wonderfully heavy with sentiment. Devine's natural blocking, circus-y details, and old-school aesthetics will make you long for the simplicity of childhood and perhaps a trip to an overcast seaside. Additionally, the work incorporates a child's primer to the Greek chorus in the form of an adorable (but totally not scary) silent clown (Tony Duran) that playfully weaves in and out of scenes. Michael Redfield enriches the show with gentle, tinkling piano background accompaniment of the Mr. Rogers Land of Make-Believe sort. Set design by Keith Mitchell and costuming Ela Jo Erwin round out the play with fanciful period details that are at once simple and striking.
Walking the Tightrope is playing at 24th Street Theatre through March 30. Tickets ($0.24 to $15) are available online or via phone at 213-745-6516.