I saw a production of “The Little Prince” at the Colorado Shakespeare Festival a few years ago. I was not especially impressed, and I ascribed most of the fault to the source material. Like “Alice in Wonderland”, it’s a story without much of a story – an episodic travel tale.
But Lookingglass pulled off a version of “Alice” that is certainly my favorite version of the story, so I had every faith that if anyone could make a play out of “Prince”, they could.
And it was a good production. What I particularly love about Lookingglass is their ability to create spectacle through simplicity – a flock of birds from four people in open white button-down shirts moving in harmony, a universe of stars from a curtain made of dangling small square mirrors, a simple snake puppet dashing across the stage on the end of a puppeteer’s stick, a galaxy of planets suggested by bubbles and brightly-colored balls. You know how good dancers make routines look effortless, easy? That’s the pleasure (and to some degree the danger) of Lookingglass – I walk away from every production thinking, “I can do that!”
Their use of acrobatics worked well as the Prince traveled to different planets. Each new planet used the idea of an actor and a globe in a different way – the king on his throne in his large robe hung from the ceiling; the accountant likewise descended on the fly system, but he precariously held himself inside a skeletal sphere made of metal hoops, constantly shifting in his cage to assume new positions to type; the lamplighter was lowered above the audience on a globe set on an axis that kept him perpetually running in place above our heads. One of the best moments in the show was a silent planet-dweller who crossed the stage balancing on a large ball while soap bubbles filled the stage, the constantly shifting and adjusting movements required to balance on a loose ball giving her the intended appearance of a drunk stumbling by.
Like the story itself, I find my memories of this production consist of moments and characters. The choice to have the Aviator draw on the set itself (a large curving white plane that worked as both dunes and paper) worked, and the actress playing the fox did an outstanding job with the character despite her using a terrible (and unnecessary) French accent. The scene where the Prince tamed the fox was simple and lovely and much more interesting than the requisite Christ-figure ending of the story. It was the best version of “The Little Prince” I can imagine, and I’m glad I had the chance to see it.