White: Theater Review

Beckett for tots, this Scottish fable actually reaches small children’s imaginations without condescension or salesmanship. 

A high-concept staging about the wonders of perception, specifically tailored for very young children, arrives in Beverly Hills.

Theater of substance for children as young as three to five that can effectively captivate adults as well requires not merely simplicity but also grand ambition, both of which are abundantly on display in White, a 35-minute burnished gem from Scotland’s Catherine Wheels Theatre Company. Observing the audience simultaneously with the staged action as we all sat as low as possible to the floor in this most intimate space, this witness can attest to the attentive comprehension of live performance artifice that progressed on their faces as they related to the development of theatrical inventions and the symbolic import of an all-white world resistant to, and finally celebrating, the invasion of diverse color. The perceptive power of kids is routinely underestimated, to our society’s loss.

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To be fair, the stage design of a tepee and assorted hanging birdhouses encompasses supple gradations of shades of white: nevertheless, the rigor of tonal uniformity requires the pair of whimsical laborers to purge any stray appearance of red, blue, green or purple by consigning the offending article to the "Bin." The duo sleep together, wake to tend to tidying, then catch eggs falling from birds in the sky, ascertain the sex growing within, and coddle them in shell cups they cosset in the cozy bird boxes. An unveiled disco ball signifies "nap time" as they retire for the night. One is clearly the senior authority enforcing the diligence, while the younger, obedient one serves faithfully, until he is moved to retrieve an offending red eggshell discarded in the Bin. Overnight the secret virus of color overtakes every corner of their previously ordered environment.

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The relatively rudimentary comic vocabulary derives from panto through silent movies to mime, although there are pointed sound effects and dialogue that makes the meanings clear at every point. There may be no ambiguity on display, yet even so more than a fair share of subtlety, some genuine grace, and unmistakable development of ideas emerge. Above all, there is that special intimacy of an experience shared in a real time where everyone partakes together of the immediacy of an actual corporeal performance physically present in real time.

White represents the sort of opportunity that ought to the right of every child's education at the earliest possible age, and in a righteous move, Catherine Wheels and app developers Hippotrix have made White: The App available for free download through the balance of the local run. While I have no doubt the app will enhance and supplement the show, it cannot in essence supplant the real thing, and one hopes despite the small number of seats that a fair share can nevertheless be made available without recourse to the $25 general admission charge. 

Venue: Lovelace Studio Theater, Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, Beverly Hills (runs through Mar. 23)

Cast: Ian Cameron, Andy Manley

Director: Gill Robertson

Playwright: Andy Manley, with Ian Cameron

Set and costume designer: Shona Reppe

Music: Danny Krass

Lighting designer: Craig Fleming

Producer: Paul Fitzpatrick

A Catherine Wheels Theatre Company Production

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