2/29/2020     TUCK EVERLASTING    Georgia Ensemble Theatre Family Stage

Immortality.  Apparently, we all want it.  Virtually all religious traditions promise post-death immortality, of either paradise or punishment.  It's a recurring theme of popular fiction, from the "Highlander" franchise to (ironically) short-lived series like "Forever" and "Helix."


But, have any of us stopped to consider what we'd do with all that time?  Will we continue to learn and grow and change?  Will we be the same person in a hundred years as we'll be in a thousand?  Are we even the same person now as we were a year ago?


Welcome to Tuck Everlasting, Natalie Babbitt's 1975 young adult novel about a young girl who crosses paths with a family who apparently live forever.  This is a beautiful story and is here framed in a tween-and-teen friendly 60-minute adaptation by Mark Frattaroli (Ms. Babbitt’s son-in-law).  This is an opportune moment to mention that this is NOT the 2015 musical adaptation that had such an impressive premiere at the Alliance Theatre before moving on to a criminally little-seen (and equally criminally Tony-snubbed) Broadway run.

Meet Winnie Foster, a ten-year girl living on the edge of a nineteenth-century forest.  Her over-protective family keeps her a virtual prisoner in their tightly-fenced home.  One day, she runs away and comes across a boy in the woods, drinking from a (magic) spring.  Faster than you can say "Creepy Family with a Secret," she is spirited away to the Tuck's hidden shack, where she is schooled in the realities of never-ending life, never-aging adolescence, never-changing existence.  She is also welcomed into a loving home warmer than the cold regard she has grown used to at home.


Faster than you can say "You gotta have a villain," a mysterious woman is on the trail of the Tucks, hoping to cash in on their immortal secret.  Everything builds perfectly to a dramatic climax that resolves in a way that questions all our attitudes and expectations.


This is one of those wonderful Nickleby-esque adaptations in which a small  cast plays a plethora of characters, providing eloquently lyrical narration, often steeped in descriptions of August heat and sylvan settings and mood-enhancing moments.  It draws us into the story and keeps us rapt in its embrace throughout.  It also makes the young-audience-friendly choice of keeping the actress playing Winnie on stage throughout the final scene when the Tucks tell us the result of Winnie’s ultimate choice, mitigating its sad reality.


I was very impressed with Patricia de la Garza’s outstanding performance as Winnie.  She IS Winnie, accurately becoming a ten-year old, full of sass, curiosity, energy, and a wide range of emotion.  She has an appealing presence that transcends her “real life” age and drives the heart of this story.  This is a young actress to watch, and her work here may prove to be one of my favorite performances of the year, even if the next ten months are jam-packed with typically wonderful Atlanta performances.  (*)


She is joined by the talented Family Stages ensemble we’ve been enjoying all season – Allen Dill as Jessie Tuck, Ryan Duda as Miles Tuck and the Constable, Adam Hobbs as Papa Tuck, Maddie Steele as Mama Tuck and Winnie’s Granny, and Kayla McCaffrey as The Stranger, making us forget that this character is male in the original story and in the musical.  They all (including Ms. De la Garza) ably handle the narration duties, making me hope to see them all in a future production of one of the many similarly-structured Dickens adaptations.


Director Michael Vine has staged the production in front of the Roswell Art Center’s curtain with a lively sense of transition and pace, keeping the action flowing and the story points clear.  Stephanie Polhemus has designed a simple set that relies on suggestions, one that is (apparently) easy to set up and take down for the show’s life on the road to Georgia’s schools and cafeterias.  Costumes (Alicia Kot) and wigs (Drew Atkinson) are things of beauty and truly help the cast with character delineation.


Saturday’s audience was mostly adults and tweens, with a few younger kids;  indeed, this is a show better suited to the over 8-year-old set, but the few younger kids seemed equally rapt and excited. The show may raise questions about death and mortality that parents of the very young may not be ready to answer, even if the kids themselves are ready to ask them.  In any case, this is a TYA production that will appeal to all parents, especially those of us who are fans of the book and the musical. 


So, the questions will remain.  Is immortality worth the price of remaining a child forever?  Is falling in love worth the price of wife and children aging past you?  Is living forever worth the price of remaining forever the same?  Are death and aging essential for appreciating the wonder that is life?  Will these same questions be repeated in other popular looks at immortality?  And, most important, will my life only SEEM to last forever if I don't get to see more shows of this caliber?


     -- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com    @bk_rudy    #GETFSTuckEverlasting  #NoChangeNoGrowth)


Tuck Everlasting will be on GET’s Roswell stage next Saturday and will return in March.  Look for GETFS’s Schoolhouse Rock in April, and the return of And Then They Came for Me TOMORROW (March 1) Only. 


(*)  In the lobby meet and greet following the show, Ms. De la Garza sang a few song snippets from the musical version with a clear and angelic voice.  Anyone casting a future production should take note.

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