Friday, October 7, 2016

The Last (Fabulous) Firefly

Writing stories well for children is really, really hard. 

Photo by Dan Norman.
I mean you think it's simple right? You just think of some sort of moral lesson, translate it into talking animals, and you're good to go.

Not so fast.

A really great children's story does feature some sort of moral theme or true growth, but it needs to have a little more than that to excel. Something that touches the heart, or connects to the real world, or that demonstrates that even though kids are small in size, the emotions and problems they face can sometimes be very big, and very grownup - and that those problems are surmountable.

Few stories really do this well. The latest show at the Children's Theatre Company in Minneapolis, The Last Firefly, is one of them.
Photo by Dan Norman.
The description of the plot is technically simple: Boom, the son of Thunder, leaves home and his mother to find his absent father after a scary man enters Boom and his mother's life. In the process, Boom discovers his own strength and how to carry on.

It's a familiar story right? Single parent, scared child; scared child overcomes growing up and finds inspiration and stability within. This show, though, touches something deeper. I'm not sure how to describe it exactly, but Boom's story feels incredibly contemporary. This is a much more grown-up story, and theme, than we are used to seeing at CTC, but it's done in a way that feels relatable to grownups and small kids alike.
Photo by Dan Norman.
The Last Firefly reminded me a lot, in fact, of Inside Out, the fabulous film released by Pixar last year that was the most sophisticated (yet accessible) explanation to kids of emotions such as loneliness or depression or guilt or fear that I've ever seen. Inside Out was masterful in particular for the way it forced its audience to see life from the main character's point of view, and The Last Firefly reaches the same place of empathy with its audience. Boom is on a quest to find his father sure, and himself; but Boom really finds that place in all of us that is sad and small, and shows us how to inspire ourselves. He also shows us how important it is to verbalize our feelings, express our fears, and face them head on in order to defeat them. It's a really inspiring point and one that is good for many kids to learn.
Photo by Dan Norman.
Boom is played by Ricardo Vazquez, who does a great job of translating Boom's complex emotions into a kid-relatable delivery that doesn't bore adults. Vazquez oozes good intentions and his winning mannerisms definitely lighten the tone of the show.  Boom meets many entertaining characters on the journey to find Thunder. They include Sun Mee Chomet as Monkey. As always Chomet is a delight and her antics lighten the show's heavier themes. Joy Dolo is wonderfully nurturing as the Spider who weaves clouds. The imagery with her character is gorgeous, and also adds a motherly, loving touch that follows Boom on his adventure.
Photo by Dan Norman.
Stephanie Bertumen is the show's most engaging character as Boom's half sister Lightning. Bertumen is fierce and plays her active fight scenes (did I mention there were fight scenes? No? Well, the girl kicks butt and they're super cool. Any kid who likes light sabers will be totally into it) and electrically wired costumes to full effect. I have a very strong feeling 90% of the kids in attendance went home pretending to be Lightning thanks to her dynamic performance. Luverne Seifert rounds out the cast as the villainous Ax and Tree. Seifert is very creepy and very dark, almost a little too much so - the show has a lot of darkness already on its own- but definitely brings home the need for Boom to find someone to protect himself and his mother.
Photo by Dan Norman.
The sets for this show are pretty minimal but have some innovative touches .There are few set pieces, but all are moved by black swathed technicians with fencing masks on. The quick movements from the technicians and their eerie headgear add to the anime vibe of the show. As previously mentioned there are some light up costumes and set pieces, as well as interactive costume pieces (such as the Spider's legs which appear and disappear as she "weaves" clouds with her silk) that have a slightly creepy but not freaky vibe. And who can forget the fireflies themselves, which are caught in a beautiful beehive and provide a striking contrast to the otherwise plain, dark backdrop.

I have a feeling that The Last Firefly is one of those shows that will fly under the radar, and it shouldn't. I was sucked in from the second I sat down, and although the story may feel familiar it definitely is told in an innovative way. I think there's a lot of benefit in treating kids like grownups and not dumbing down tough subjects. Missing parents, threatening adults, fear, learning to trust yourself - those are all really adult themes that are presented in a digestible way for children in The Last Firefly. I know they definitely touched me, and I have a feeling they may have helped at least a few kids in attendance get in touch with themselves as well. I highly recommend this show for both kids and grownups. Please note that it's requested to have kids be age 8 or older to attend. If you want more information about the show, you can find it by clicking on this link.