OK, so I'll admit I was hesitant to start reviewing at the Children's Theatre. But then at the urging of others and the insistence that they are putting up some of the better shows in town, I relented. And if their current offering, "A Single Shard", is any indication, then I seriously need to rethink my attitude. Yes, it's children's theater in that it's theater that's OK for children to see, but it's so much more and better than you may expect.
Adapted by Robert Schenkkan from the book by Linda Sue Park, "A Single Shard" follows the journey of a young orphan boy in 12th century Korea. With no family and never enough to eat, the boy Tree Ear (Jason Ko) lives under a bridge with the crippled Crane Man (Ho-Kwan Tse). But Tree Ear is fascinated by the works of Master Potter Min (Scott Koh). One day Tree Ear accidentally breaks one of Master Potter Min's pieces while spying on him. In order to pay off the debt he begins to work for the potter but continues to work long after the debt has been repaid much to the joy of Mistress Min (Naho Shioya) who begins to see Tree Ear as a member of the family more than a worker. When the Emperor's Emissary comes to the village to bestow a commission on one of the local potters he requests that Min create a new piece and deliver it for the Emperor's review. But it is a long journey especially for an old man to undertake so Tree Ear volunteers to take the pottery to the Emperor and along his journey he encounters many hardships that will test his values and spirit.
Ko as Tree Ear is lovely to watch. He is sweet and vulnerable and as the driving force of the story he never loses focus. Koh as Master Potter Min manages so many layers to his character without ever stating them that he himself is a rich tapestry of emotion to watch and Shioya as his wife is the perfect balance for his gruff exterior. And Tse as the wise Crane Man keeps the moral center of the play perfectly.
I must give special kudos to Annett Mateo for her gorgeous puppets as well as to Carey Wong for the beautiful set and stunning hand painted backdrops. Add into that a wonderful lighting design by Michelle Habeck and outstanding staging and storytelling from director Linda Hartzell and this just proves what I said before. This is not Children's theater. This is great theater suitable for children.
On the way out of the theater I overhead a young theater goer comment over and over about the fact that a friend didn't want to come that night. He kept saying, "This was so great. It doesn't make sense, how could she not want to see this?" And I must echo his sentiment, how could you not want to see this?
"A Single Shard" plays at Seattle Children's Theatre through March 18th. For tickets or information contact the Seattle Children's Theatre box office at 206-441-3322 or visit them online at www.sct.org.
Photo credit: Chris Bennion