Friday, October 14, 2016

Rikki Tikki Tavi

From left, Anastasia Bonaccorso as Darzee and Catherine Gloria as Rikki Tikki Tavi delight all ages with their performances in the B Street Theatre Family Series’ “The Garden of Rikki Tikki Tavi.” Rudy Meyers/Courtesy photo

One way to judge the quality of a production performed for children is to check the reaction of the children in the audience.

By that criterion, the B Street Family Series’ new “The Garden of Rikki Tikki Tavi” adapted from a Rudyard Kipling story by Y York is an unmitigated success.

Checking the children around me, I saw a boy of about 3 in his mother’s lap, riveted to the action. An older boy behind him jumped up and down in glee during a chase scene. Children sitting on the side of the stage sat in rapt attention and applauded enthusiastically.

What’s not to like? It starts with the sumptuous colorful set of an East Indian garden by Samantha Reno. It has multi levels, and interesting things everywhere — plants, rocks, etc. — to engage a child’s attention.

The one-act show also has a lot of good messages about sharing and cooperation, with some information about eating good food, endangered species and simple etiquette, all in a format that does not sound like teaching at all.

The weekend I saw the show, director Lyndsay Burch stepped into the role of Darzee, the tailor bird who claims the garden as her own. (The role is normally played by Anastasia Bonaccorso). Burch was vain and haughty and protective of things that she considered hers and sings a song “Mine, Mine, Mine.” She also established a nice rapport with the children in the audience before the show started.

Into Darzee’s own private paradise bounces Rikki Tikki (Catherine Gloria), a young mongoose who will earn his “Tavi” when he grows up. Gloria is absolutely adorable. Rikki is a bundle of exploding energy, oblivious to anything but joy and happiness in his world, and trying to find a home for himself. The children love his wide-eyed innocence, even as he continues to commit breaches of tailor bird etiquette and exasperate Darzee.

The young mongoose is adopted by Teddy, a young boy played by adult John Lamb. (Lamb later returns as a cobra and is able to create two such different characters, that children are probably hard-pressed to realize it is the same actor in both roles, especially when a very quick costume change is involved.) Teddy is delighted to have a pet, which, he explains, keeps him from being at the bottom of the family food chain.

Amy Kelly is also on hand as Chuchu, the muskrat (very particular that people remember the “musk” part of her name). Kelly is irresistible, with her muskrat overbite. She establishes a friendship with Rikki and teaches him about the dangers of Nag, the feared cobra.

Lamb’s cobra slithers onto the stage in a very believable snake-like fashion, first to hide her eggs and later to do battle with Rikki Tikki, who earns his ”Tavi” in his dealings with Nag.

This is a show that even young children will love, and yet there is enough sophistication that adults will find it enjoyable as well.

The B Street Theatre’s Family Series is California’s only fully professional, resident theater for children. It has made it its mission to introduce children to the wonder of professional theater through the production of original plays and original adaptations of works of literature. Since its first season in 2003, it has presented more than 50 plays for approximately 300,000 children and families.

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