By Marilyn Delk
Theatrical productions can be engaging, entertaining, and diverting, but theatre can also enlighten, move, and inspire. This past weekend, I experienced all of the above reactions at two quite diverse plays; one of those was Darke County Center for the Arts’ presentation at Henry St. Clair Memorial Hall in Greenville of Leeds, United Kingdom—based Tutti-frutti’s production, The Ugly Duckling. Within a creatively evocative minimalist set, the joyous show featured adorable puppets and amazing actors who adeptly played instruments and sang beautifully. The talented cast of three included Dora Rubinstein who played Mummy Duck and Dog, Marcelo Cervone in the multiple roles of Fluffy, Mr. Swan, Goose, and Cat, and Danny Childs as the title character, Ugly.
The familiar story unfolds as expected: When the newly hatched creature emerges from an unusually large egg, the little new one is obviously not very little. His loving mother assures him that “You are the right size for you, you are the right shape for you,” and “What you look like is not important.” However, when his duckling sibling informs the newborn that he is the wrong color, doesn’t waddle properly, and can’t chirp like a proper duckling, “Ugly” pronounces himself “the worst duckling ever.” Although he is the most elegant swimmer on the pond, “Ugly” simply wishes to be “like the rest of them.”
After being led astray and attempting to become likable by taking dubious advice from a dog, “Ugly” cannot remember how to return to his home, and believing that nobody likes an ugly duckling anyway, decides to hide until others learn to see “inside the ugly.” In a lovely montage created by the actors utilizing simple props elegantly manipulated, the action moves through the seasons to Spring, when Mother Duckling, while sending her offspring out into the world, fondly recalls the absent duckling who was different. When a lovely, graceful white creature appears before her, she recognizes her lost “ugly duckling,” who has become a beautiful swan. A joyful reunion ensues, the characters happily sing “Maybe you’re a duckling or maybe you’re a swan, What matters are the things you do,” and all live happily ever after. Audiences left the performance having gained a greater ability to accept differences and a deeper understanding of identity, knowing that it’s not what you look like, but what you do that is important to life.
The other play I experienced last weekend could not have been more different in theme and mood, but left a similar deep impression on all who witnessed the wonder of it all; as I sat enthralled at an amazing performance, stellar Broadway actors appeared in a DaytonLive presentation of Charles Fuller’s powerful, award-winning A Soldier’s Play at the Victoria Theatre. In an article for Dayton Daily News, the show’s star Norm Lewis, a veteran performer on Broadway, in film, and countless TV appearances, describes the show as a “universal story” about “racism, self-hatred, and brotherhood.” In another quote, actor Eugene Lee, who was a member of the original cast for the show when it premiered on Broadway over 40 years ago and has a major role in the current production, says, “The understanding and insight this play provides for everybody across the board helps bridge cultural gaps, brings people together and has healing power. Everything in this play is nuanced and poetic. It is truth told with clarity.”
This apt description—truth told with clarity—does not begin to convey the wonder of watching masterful actors create a world which the audience also enters, experiencing a broad range of reactions and emotions, but that description surprisingly also applies to DCCA’s Family Theatre presentations, albeit at an intensity appropriate for an audience including children. Each theatrical performance creates a world that will never again be seen on this earth, a world that elicits a visceral response engaging imaginations, inspiring dreams. In entertaining, yet impactful works of art, theatre engages hearts and minds in strong feelings and deep thought, creatively illuminating truths and confirming beliefs; the power of theatre is powerful indeed!