Crystian Wiltshire, Leah Roberts & Kate Martin in Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse. Photo-StageOne

Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse

By Kevin Henke Adapted for the stage by Kevin Kling
Directed by Mike Brooks

Review by Keith Waits

Entire contents copyright © 2015 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved  

Reviewing children’s theatre, whether it is theatre designed for an audience of children, or theatre performed by children, requires that one be able to suspend adult cynicism and attempt to see the play as a child might. Of course, it helps to be in an audience of children, and if the reactions among the young theatregoers at the performance of Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse I attended is any indication, then Stage One must count the production a success. Indeed, it may the only reaction that matters.

Not that I have any nitpicking to share. The quality of the production is no surprise from this company, and the story is an appealing concoction of humor and moral lesson delivered with as light a touch as we could hope for, with just enough adult sensibility to engage audience members over 18 years of age. If nothing else, the expressive jazz score was worth the listen, and a delightfully childish dance number in the middle was amusing for that sliver of anachronism.

Lilly’s story is set in the world of mice. This seems somewhat irrelevant except for a couple of instances where the fear of a feline encounter plays a role. Lilly (Kate Martin) is a precocious, egotistical child who considers herself the “Queen of the World,” and suffers poorly the intrusion of a noisy, smelly baby brother, Julius (Crystian Wiltshire). Her parents (Ben Evans & Jamie Lynn Sutton-Gilliam) are understandably more focused on Julius, and Lilly clearly needs to be the center of attention. She befriends Chester & Wilson (Scott Anthony & Cory Hardin) best friends and perhaps the most indelible mouse characters you have encountered since Stuart Little. At school she adores her teacher, Mr. Slinger (Andy Gaukel) and aspires to be a teacher herself when she grows up.

But the arrival of the titular Purple Plastic Purse as a gift from her Grammy (Leah Roberts) highlights the dark side of Lilly’s self-centeredness. And therein lies the simple lesson of the material. Trust that things will be corrected and the story will find its way to a happy conclusion.

Kate Martin is such an irrepressible joy as Lilly, so ebullient and engaging that it almost undermines the message that Lilly’s selfishness is meant to be undesirable. Almost. Scott Anthony, somewhat known for playing hard-edged characters with a surplus of cool, makes Chester a specific and indelible kind of persnickety nebbish, and Cory Hardin as his partner, Wilson, positions himself as the perfect foil. These three prove that there is no reason to assume theatre for children cannot feature top-notch acting. The same could be said for the entire ensemble, and I particularly enjoyed Leah Robert’s utility work as Garland, a pink-clad, conceited and vain rival in Lilly’s world.

Director Mike Brooks takes full advantage of the script’s opportunities for surrealism, staging dreams and fantasies with imagination and a touch of fear pitched at just the right level for the young audience. A large cat in one sequence was a perfect example of strangeness falling just shy of inducing nightmares.

May 9 was the sensory-friendly performance, which is now a standard feature for every Stage One production. It was unclear to me how many of the families in attendance may have included special needs or autism spectrum children, and Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse doesn’t contain much that would challenge such sensitivity: no loud noises or strobe lights for example, but I am glad to see this worthwhile initiative maintained as a routine part of the company’s public schedule.

Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse

May 9 & 16, 2015 11am & 2pm

May 9, 11am – Sensory-friendly performance

Stage One Family Theatre
Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts
501 West Main Street
Louisville, KY 40204

[box_light]KeithKeith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being one of the hosts of PUBLIC on ARTxFM, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for[/box_light]