8/17/2019        THE JUNGLE BOOK                 Serenbe Playhouse




(Sloth Alert – this is the third time since 2018 I’ve written about a Jungle Book production.  Do I have a template?  But of course!)


Rudyard Kipling is experiencing a bit of a revival.  Largely dismissed as a racist imperialist writer from a racist imperialist age, his reputation fell into a quagmire of taboo and politically expedient neglect.


And, indeed, there is much of his work that causes the most historically "aware" reader to shudder a bit.  "The White Man's Burden" is especially hard on those of us struggling to recognize and subvert our own lingering shreds of unconscious racism.


But he's experiencing a bit of a revival, and the 2016 "Live Action" Jungle Book film went out of its way to subvert any innate racist subtext.


Which begs the question, should this sort of analysis be part of the discussion of a production aimed at kids?  After all, this is the third for-kids stage adaptation I've written about since 2018.


For the time being, let's leave that decision with parents.  For now, let's just talk about, well, The Jungle Book, at least as presented in the great Serenbe jungle – I mean, forest – in an adaptation by Tim Kelly.  For any of you new to this story (is anyone REALLY new to this story?), the Wolf King (no Wolf-Mama Akela in this version) adopts an abandoned "man-cub" named Mowgli, and, together with Baloo (a bear) Bagheera (a panther), and Kaa (a snake) tries to teach him the bare necessities required to protect him from the harsh jungle justice of Shere Kahn (a tiger).  Along the way, there are games and adventures and lessons and threats, and, eventually a "new" law is formed that allows "family" to be whatever the family chooses it to be.


This is an admitted over-simplification, and, this version is nothing if not over-simplified -- but it is a perfect introduction to the story for the under-ten set.  To its credit, the production, as is typical of Serenbe shows for young audiences, is lively, funny, highly interactive, and keeps the glade-full of man-cubs (and, for the record, elder auditors) perfectly rapt for its short 45-minute running time.


Moving into the same rocky glade occupied all summer by Pocahontas, (nice that the same Serenbe site can be equally convincing as a Virginia Forest and an India Jungle), director Cory Phelps and choreographer/composer Amy Duffy use the space well, putting the Serenbe Apprentice Corps through their paces, assigning multiple roles and devising feats of athleticism beyond the fading abilities of old folks such as I.  Yes, the vines will be swung on, the trees will be climbed up, the rocks will be leapt down from, the sentences will NOT end prepositions with.   


Brandon Smith is absolutely marvelous as an adolescent Mowgli, full of sass and rebellion, playfully oozing energy that is completely untouched by the Hot Jungle – I mean August Georgia – sun.   He is most ably supported by Micah Patterson as a wise and worthy Great Wolf, Barry Westmoreland as a delightfully dim Baloo (as well as a touchingly sorrowful human villager), and Megan McCarthy as a slinky and charming Bagheera, Kaa, and Monkey Leader.  But it is Zuri Petteway as the hissable Shere Khan who quickly became my favorite, holding the ensemble in fearful thrall, giving them all a common cause, but not being so over-the-top scary as to traumatize the man-cubs in the audience.  She is a real find and a truly wicked delight.


I also must give a shout out to my friend (bias alert) Joel Coady, whose sound design seems natural (for the most part) solving all the artificiality problems that seemed to plague the early performances of Pocahontas.  That he includes a continuous loop of credible jungle ambiance completely puts us into an India-frame-of-mind before the show even starts.


So, if you have small ones looking for a morning's entertainment, I strongly suggest you wend your way to Serenbe for a fun trip into the world of British Colonialism and child abandonment – oops, sorry, into the jungle world of Mowgli and all his friends.  (Sun alert – bring an umbrella/parasol or at least keep in the House Left seats, or you just might get burned.  I was!)   And, remember to have a good talk with your cubs before they fall into the Google-hole of Anti-Kipling rants and invective.  Because, we all know that the Politically Correct response to "Do you like Kipling?" is "I don't know!  I've never Kippled."  #YeahIWentThere   #Again


     -- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com   @bk_rudy    #Serenbe  #JungleBook)



Note – The Jungle Book is at Serenbe through the end of September and will eventually tour Fulton County schools.


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