“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”
I should tell you at the outset, I was not sure I wanted to see this play. I remember as a child loving this charming book. It struck a chord with me. So much so that I wrote an essay about the meaning of the story as a high school senior. (Classmates thought I was crazy for writing an essay for an AP humanities class about a children’s book, but my passion for the story came shining through). I still had that image in my mind later as I eventually read the story to my own children. It was perfect. Would seeing the play alter my memory of this special story?
As this captivating story unfolds, The Boy receives a Velveteen Rabbit in his stocking on Christmas morning. Gradually, the Boy’s love for the sawdust-filled rabbit grows and grows and the Rabbit learns from the Skin Horse in the nursery that you can become real when a child really loves you. And the Rabbit longs for this to be so.
Audience members, including the younger set, sit on the edge of their seats, waiting to see what will happen next. Consistent with many other plays at Virginia Rep’s Children’s Theatre, the actors are very engaging and active, demonstrating fluid movement, even as they scoot up the aisles to hit their marks. My sons, aged eight and ten, thoroughly enjoyed it (which was a tall order for my 10-year-old as he sulked in the beginning about being dragged to a “little kid” show).
Brian C. Barker’s set design is simple and reminiscent of the original book’s descriptions, but it also includes a few dynamic surprises built right in that truly complement the story.
Most impressive was the Velveteen Rabbit (A.A. “Corbin” Puryear) himself, who masterfully was the backbone of the show. Puryear effortlessly engages with the audience through the Velveteen Rabbit and impeccably balances the art of blending in so that the star character could shine.
Hart Isaacoff (The Boy), a mere 12-years-old, does an outstanding job, showing a diverse range of emotions, all associated with the plight of the Velveteen Rabbit. The adventure scenes of spectacular nighttime antics with A.A. “Corbin” Puryear are not to be missed. Isaacoff and Sara Heifetz (Nana) also have an excellent repartee together. The endearing chiding between Heifetz and Isaacoff speakes volumes about their caring relationship.
The talented Gordon Bass (Narrator/Skin Horse), the patriarch of the story, offers his sage words to tie everything together. K Strong (Narrator/Director) sparkled as Director, Narrator, and Nursery Fairy, whose reassuring tone lets everyone know that everything would be all right in the nursery. My 8-year-old’s eyes lit up when he saw her. He whispered, “That looks like a real fairy!” Heart melted.
The play would not have been possible without puppeteers Todd Patterson and Rachel Dilliplane. (Although I would like to have seen more of the talented Todd Patterson, as he has become a family favorite). Finally, the play was dedicated to the memory of Terry Snyder, who designed and built all of the amazing puppets that came alive during the play.
So, am I glad that I saw the play? I am. It was perfect. And my kids were too. You will be glad as well, whether you grew up reading the book –or not. (And P.S. That high school essay? I earned an A+.)
Suggested for ages three and up, The Velveteen Rabbit runs through January 3 at Virginia Rep’s Children’s Theatre at Willow Lawn. Click for showtimes and tickets.