Stage Door Review

The Little Prince

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

✭✭

written and directed by Anne Marie Mortensen

Little Prince Productions, The Baby Grand, Kingston

December 3-13, 2020

Fox: “One sees clearly only with the heart. What is essential is invisible to the eye”

Kingston should consider itself a very lucky city to have a live theatre production playing in town this December. Because of the Covid-19 pandemic so many theatres in Ontario and across Canada have no live theatre at all or have to make do with livestreamed and pre-recorded entertainment just at the time of year when families are most likely to seek out shows that they can all enjoy together. Fortunately for those in Kingston and surrounding area, a group of artists have banded together under the Equity-approved Artists’ Collective Policy to stage an utterly delightful production of The Little Prince based on the beloved novel Le Petit Prince (1943) of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (1900-44).

Director and playwright Anne Marie Mortensen’s stage adaptation stays very close to the novel. In it we first meet the Narrator (Cassel Miles), who has become a pilot. The Narrator says how as a child he was disappointed with the inability of adults to understand the pictures he drew. His favourite picture of a python that has eaten an elephant, adults always identified as a hat.

One day the Narrator crash lands in the Sahara with only eight days of water left. While he is desperately trying to repair his plane, a young boy, the Little Prince (Jesse Sulphur), appears and says he has come from another planet. When the Narrator shows the Little Prince the drawing of the snake, the boy immediately knows what it is and the Narrator knows that the two will get along well.

Over the next eight days the Little Prince tells the Narrator the story of his life. He lives on the small asteroid B612 which is constantly in danger of being taken over by baobab plants. The Prince wants a sheep to eat the baobabs but is afraid that it might also eat his beloved Rose (Rosemary Doyle). The Little Prince Loves and pampers the Rose even though he knows she is vain and feigns illness to get his attention.

Because of his awkward situation on his home planet, the Little Prince, once he has ensured that the Rose will be safe, decides to travel to other planets the better to understand his place in the universe. His travels take him to six planets each inhabited by a single person who serves as a satire upon humankind’s folly and narrow-mindedness. One is a king (Doyle) with no subjects who believes that only his orders keep the world running.

The sixth person he meets is a geographer (Doyle) who has never been anywhere or seen the things he records his his massive books. This character advises the Little Prince to visit Earth. There the Prince discovers to his disappointment that almost everyone is like the six people he had already met. The main exceptions are the Narrator and a Fox (Doyle) who wants the Prince to tame her so that she will be special. From the Fox the Prince learns that his love for the Rose and hers for him was real. The Fox teaches the Prince that "One sees clearly only with the heart. What is essential is invisible to the eye”.

The Prince saves the Narrator by finding a well, but the one element of the tale that Mortensen omits is the the death of the Little Prince, likely because for younger children it might be too disturbing. Mortensen knows well that the Prince’s notion that the Narrator will still be able to see and hear him in the twinkling of the stars is just as emotionally effective no matter how the Prince has departed from his friend the Narrator.

The cast is uniformly excellent with an amazingly assured performance from 11-year-old Jesse Sulpher in the title role. Not only does Sulpher look like Saint-Exupéry’s illustration of the Little Prince come to life, but Sulphur fully conveys the air of seriousness tinged with melancholy that makes the character so beloved.

Cassel Miles’s young and agile Narrator could not be more different from the deliberate and wise Martin Luther King, Jr. that he most recently played in The Meeting for Theatre Kingston. He shows us that the Narrator is one of those rare adults who has retained the benefits of a childlike nature.

I have never seen Rosemary Doyle, Artistic Director of Theatre Kingston, perform on stage before. Her taking on of the 15 characters that the Little Prince meets on his travels is a true delight. Using various accents and gestural habits, as well as Mortensen’s array of witty costumes, Doyle manages to keep all her characters completely distinct and all of them very funny. Each of the characters is so humorous in its own way it is quite difficult to say which is the most memorable.

If I had to choose I would probably select the Rose, the King, the Businessman and the Fox. In the first Doyle exposes both the manipulative side of the character as well as her real feeling. The second is a fine study in absurdity where a ruler deceives himself that he has power when all he does is command things to happen that will happen anyway. The third is a great study in monomania where the Businessman prizes numbers over what they represent. And the fourth resents a tender portrait of a wild creature who has to convince the fearful Prince that she wants to be loved.

Doyle is also responsible for the set design and construction. She gives us a small square of desert and cleverly has built half an airplane with its one wing jutting out over the playing area. Director Anne Marie Mortensen is also credited with the video design where the sky of Doyle’s set becomes a screen for both projections and animation such as the Narrator’s drawing of the snake or later his drawing of a sheep. Unlike far too many children’s plays that use video and projections, Mortensen’s are always in service of clarity in storytelling and are pleasantly whimsical in themselves.

Cassel Miles is listed as the flight choreographer and movement director. What this means is that Miles inventively has figured out how to have up to three actors move about on the small set without it ever seeming crowded. He also has thought of a different way to hold the Prince each time to show him flying off to another planet. The most exciting is when Miles swings Sulpher around like an acrobat holding on to only one leg and one arm.

The production plays in The Baby Grand, the smaller black box theatre upstairs inside the Kingston Grand Theatre. Even though the maximum seating capacity for The Baby Grand is 130, the space is set up cabaret style with five tables seating four people at each. The intention is that a bubble of four, like a family, will purchase a table for itself and thus sit physically isolated from the other tables.

As with so many of the in-person shows being staged outside of the Covid grey and red zones, Little Prince Productions’ play is a testament to the ardent desire of small companies combined with a knack for inventiveness to keep live theatre live with little concern for raking in large profits. This kind of smart, small-scale production is what has been keeping in-person theatre going during the pandemic and will likely be the kind of theatre that succeeds elsewhere after the pandemic is under control. The Little Prince is a lovely production that families or groups of friends should make every effort to see while they can.

Christopher Hoile

Photos: Jesse Supher as the Little Prince, Cassel Miles as the Narrator and Rosemary Doyle as the Fox; Jesse Supher as the Little Prince and Cassel Miles as the Narrator; Cassel Miles as the Narrator and Jesse Supher as the Little Prince. © 2020 Little Prince Productions.

For tickets, visit www.kingstongrand.ca.