Regional Reviews: Phoenix
The play centers on the 8-year-old dreamer Sheila and her group of friends who one summer, with "nothing but time and imagination" on their hands, build a castle fort treehouse out of a pile of junk they find behind Sheila's house. When Sheila's mother goes out of town and leaves Sheila alone for one night, the kids, including Dennis who is the oldest and strongest, the clever, wise and helpful Leon, and the twins who are shy and eager, decide to spend the night in their junk fort. But as the sun goes down, they find themselves face to face with a human-size coyote wearing sunglasses and cowboy boots. That encounter sets them off on a high-stakes adventure where the youngsters learn things about themselves and about the world around them.
Coble has written a fun adventure story that uses a traditional storytelling method to bring to life both realistic characters and the fantasy-filled adventures they have. There are numerous twists and turns in the script so you never quite know where the story is going, which is good. Having the piece performed by just one person also brings a beautiful sense of theatricality to the show. While the environmental message Coble brings out about three quarters of the way into the show may seem slightly heavy handed, and also includes some touches that are slightly scary for younger theatergoers, the way he uses only children and animals to get his message across is very effective.
Kate Haas is terrific at bringing the story vibrantly to life with her expert storytelling skills, along with her keen ability to use different voices and body gestures to portray the numerous characters in the script. Under Debra K. Stevens' skilled direction, Haas pulls you into the adventure and keeps you intrigued and on the edge of your seat for the entire 60-minute show.
With expert use of Jeff Thomson's imaginative scenic design, which includes a wide range of pieces of junk to portray everything in the show from the kids to the fort they build and the truck the coyote drives, director Stevens has brought to life, literally out of junk, in-depth story and richly detailed characters. Cody Soper's superb lighting beautifully portrays the heat of the hot, New Mexico summer day as well as the glow of the setting sun and the deep, dark black of night. Christopher Neumeyer's sound effects and original music add plenty of atmosphere to the production.
With an excellent performance by Kate Haas and superb creative elements, The Girl Who Swallowed a Cactus is yet another successful theatrical endeavor at Childsplay. It is a show that will take children of all ages on a fun and imaginative journey while also giving you food for thought on how our world is one that both humans and animals must learn to share.
Childsplay's The Girl Who Swallowed a Cactus, through November 18, 2018, at the Herberger Theater Center, 222 East Monroe St., Phoenix AZ. Performances are on Saturdays at 1 pm and 4 pm and Sundays at 1 pm. For tickets and information, visit www.childsplayaz.org or call the Herberger box office at 602-254-7399.
Written by Eric Coble