THE WASHINGTON POST
What’s on tap in children’s theater this summer: Puppets and pirates
By Jane Horwitz July 21
An occasional review of children’s theater options around Washington. (Shows are appropriate for age 4 and older unless noted.)
Peter (Ryan Carlo) and Judy (Billie Krishawn) get much more than the game they started playing in the immersive “Jumanji” at Adventure Theatre. (Michael Horan)
Swimming pools aren’t the only places where kids can immerse themselves this summer. A couple of theater pieces are offering a different kind of “immersive” fun.
At Adventure Theatre MTC, the experience actually does involve water. For its production of Jumanji, a mist periodically drizzles over the audience, along with bubbles and cardboard bits doubling as snow or lava. Oversize puppets, also made of cardboard, loom near the seats, and projections and lighting effects seem just as close.
Adventure Theatre Artistic Director Michael J. Bobbitt, who adapted the classic 1981 picture book by Chris Van Allsburg with Sandra Eskin, said he used his technical “toys” to make the show a “4-D” experience. “I’ve gotten into this idea of immersive theater and how much more visceral it can be,” he says. Thus came the rain, the bubbles, the snow, the lava.
But first, he and Eskin had to fill in the story. In the book, a brother and sister discover a magical board game that transports jungle animals into their home. Even with Van Allsburg’s drawings, it’s a little book.
Bobbitt credits Eskin with coming up with the idea to turn the placid children in the book into bickering siblings. “You have to have theater, you have to have drama,” he says. “Playing the game, they learn to get along, which is of course what you want from almost every children’s play.”
When Peter (Ryan Carlo) and his big sister, Judy (Billie Krishawn), start to play Jumanji, a huge snake puppet twists and glides into their living room. (Kids who know the book will see that the order of animals is different; in the book, the lion comes first.) The puppets — monkeys, lion, birds and more — were designed by Andrea “Dre” Moore and are visibly operated by actors.
Elan Zafir, who plays the hopelessly incompetent jungle guide, says kids “just go ape over some of the things that happen.” His role, quite small in the book, becomes key here, helping to tone down the scary and amp up the humorous. “I wanted to make sure the show was really funny and surprising, but not scary,” Bobbitt says.
So the guide may look like a steely eyed Indiana Jones-type hero at first, but he turns out to be comically inept — a poser.
“He’s seen too many movies. He’s read too many books,” Zafir says. “He’s kind of vain . . . he thinks he’s this dashing, romantic, swashbuckling adventurer . . . but he’s flawed.” The guide’s ineptitude, Bobbitt says, forces Judy and Peter to figure out how to solve the problem on their own.
Seeking ways to make his character non-threatening and funny, Zafir says he improvised a lot in rehearsals and even preview performances. In live theater, he says, the relationship between actors and children is like a secret pact.
“You’re making big gestures and it’s 100-percent truthful, but you’re in on the joke, too. It’s not like you’re winking your eye at them — you’re not winking. But the fact that you could wink at any second is right there. And the kids see that and they love that.”
“Jumanji” through Aug. 28 at Adventure Theatre MTC, 7300 MacArthur Blvd., Glen Echo, Md. 301-634-2270. adventuretheatre-mtc.org . $19.50.
BWW Review: JUMANJI Soars to Life at Adventure Theatre MTC
“Wow! This is amazing!”
That was the sentiment summed up by a young theatergoer sitting behind me at Adventure Theatre MTC’s recent adventurous production ofJumanji. Based on the Caldecott Medal winning book by Chris Van Allsburg, the show tells the story of two kids left home alone in their new house and discover a board game that comes to life as they roll the dice. The 1981 book was famously turned into a 1995 movie starring Robin Williams, but the plot of the play is closer to the original book than the movie, although the premise is the same.
Adapted for the stage by Sandra Eskin and ATMTC Artistic Director Michael Bobbitt, it is an adventure for both the audience and the team behind the onstage magic. The show, which clocks in just shy of an hour, kept the children in the audience at the seat of the pants in large part due to the impressive puppets by Andrea “Dre” Moore. Ms. Moore always seems to outdo herself with each production she designs and these animals come to life with her creative magic. The sprawling set by Luciana Stecconi is perfect in the intimate space. Jungle master and director, Serge Seiden, uses the space so well and puts Ms. Moore’s puppets to use through his almost ballet-like direction of bringing these animals to life.
The main cast, the children, played by Ryan Carlo and Billie Krishawn, are great as the fighting siblings who come together to win the game, and bring great personalities to the roles. The “adult” cast, who also are the puppeteers, are played with gusto by Julia Klavans, Jacob Yeh, and Elan Zafir. As their characters they each bring a certain charm to their adult counterparts, but their true mastery is in their puppeteering, and giving these animals personalities.
I’ve said before that the quality work that is being done at Adventure Theatre MTC is and should be on par with any other professional theater in town and even though Jumanji is intended for a younger crowd, everyone who goes will share that young child’s review… “Wow! That was amazing!”
Theatre Review: ‘Jumanji’ at Adventure Theatre MTC
Adventure roars in Jumanji! Directed by Serge Seiden, based on the 1982 Caldecott Medal winning book by Chris Van Allsbur and adapted by Sandra Eskin and Adventure Theatre, MTC’s own Michael Bobbitt, Jumanji stampedes its way to Adventure Theatre, MTC as the final production of their full 64th season.
Adventure Theatre’s Jumanji follows closely to the original story about Peter and Judy, who find the mysterious board game in a closet, apparently left by the previous owners of their new house. Their parents are away for the evening, and when Peter finds the old board game and wants to play, Judy relents because of boredom. They find quickly that Jumanji is a jungle adventure contest that is far more real than a game.
This production is completely absorbing. It entices the audience into all of the adventures…
The first roll of the dice blur the line between reality and fantasy as the adventures in the game come to life and hilariously vex Peter and Judy. I don’t want to give away too many visits from the jungle, but let me say there are a lion, a snake, and a few monkeys, who are both very cute and very mischievous. With help from a jungle guide, Peter and Judy realize they must finish the game to get everything back to normal before their parents arrive home.
This production is completely absorbing. It entices the audience into all of the adventures – a complete “4-D jungle experience” as stated by Adventure Theatre. There are fabulous puppets (Andrea “Dre” Moore), eye-catching projections (Patrick Lord) and lighting (Andrew Griffin), gripping sound (Kenny Neal) and special effects (Andrew Berry) and a thrilling and wet monsoon. I’m trying to remember when I had so much fun at the theatre, and I’m having a hard time coming up with one.
Billie Krishawn as Judy is great as a typical teen who has to watch her little brother, but she also shows fear and worry over her situation with ease. Ryan Carlo as Peter perfectly portrays a slightly spoiled pre-teen with too much energy and a lower than average instinct for self-preservation. And every time Elan Zafir, as the Guide, opens his mouth and says his lines, the audience laughs. It’s a given. He’s that good.
We don’t see much of the parents, Julia Klavans as the Mom and Jacob Yeh as the Dad, but as puppeteers they do a great job bringing the numerous and various puppets to life.
Jumanji is the 4th original production done by Adventure Theatre, MTC this season, and I know I have said this before, but cherish how lucky are we that we are able to see this caliber of theatre each and every year. Please don’t miss this one!
Advisory: Recommended for ages 4 and up due to jungle suspense.
‘Jumanji’ at Adventure Theatre: Review, Discount, & Giveaway!
Before going to see Jumanji at Adventure Theatre, I got a little inside info from my contact there that “the show is probably the funniest we have ever had in my 6 years here.” Now, that’s a rather lofty statement to make about a production. Combine that with press materials describing a “4-D jungle experience for its patrons,” and my expectations for great, rollicking entertainment were pretty high.Based on the book by Chris Van Allsburg, Jumanji tells the story of Judy and Peter, a sister and brother who find a mysterious old board game while their parents are out. They decide to play it, then adventure — and some wild magic — ensue, transforming their living room into a world beyond their imaginations and sending them on a incredible journey to claim Jumanji. (Many parents, and maybe even some of your kids, have seen the 90′s movie version starring Robin Williams.)
The jungle, a monsoon, an erupting volcano, monkeys, lions, and a giant snake are all part of the show, a feat that might seem impossible to pull off on the cozy Adventure Theatre stage. But the creative execution, featuring a superb cast, brilliant puppetry, and fun elements that surprise and engage the audience bring the story to life with excitement and humor for both children and adults.
Ryan Dalusung and Billie Krishawn are fantastic as Peter and Judy, nailing the brother/sister dynamic with typical sibling quibbles and silly jabs at each other. (Sasha actually whispered to me at one point, “That’s like me and Owen!”) But the character who had me actually LOL-ing was The Guide. Played by Elan Zafir, he’s like an awkward Indiana Jones meets J. Peterman from Seinfeld — in the most hilarious way possible.
Expectations, met! And I’m pretty certain yours and your kids’ will be, too.
Jumanji is running at Adventure Theatre through August 28, with performances on most Saturdays and Sundays at 11am, 2pm, and 4pm, and on Mondays at 10:30am. Tickets are $19.50, and you can get 15% off until for any date if you purchase by July 15, just use the code KFDC at checkout. Recommended for ages 4 and up.
Giveaway: For a chance to win a Famly 4-Pack of tickets to see Jumanji at Adventure Theatre, simply leave let me know the date you’d like to see the show in the comments. To be eligible you must like KidFriendly DC on Facebook and subscribe to the KFDC blog (see sign-up near the top left). This giveaway will run through Sunday, July 3, then a winner will be drawn at random and notified shortly thereafter. Good luck!
Review: ‘Jumanji’ at Adventure Theatre MTC
Adventure Theatre MTC (ATMTC) finishes out its 2015-2016 Season with their fourth world premiere production, Jumanji. The adaptation was co-written by Sandra Eskin and ATMTC’s Artistic Director, Michael J. Bobbitt, and was based on Chris Van Allsburg’s book of the same name, which won the Caldecott Medal-a prize that goes to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children.
ATMTC has proven time and time again to be one of the top sources of Theatre for Young Audiences in the Maryland and DC area, and Jumanji is no exception. Serge Seiden, directs this beautiful production the theatre is calling a “4-D jungle experience,” which includes incredible puppets and effects that allow the audience to truly feel they are immersed in the story.
The design team (Costume Designer Roberto Croghan, Set Designer Luciana Stecconi, Projections Designer Patrick Lord, Lighting Designer Andrew Griffin, Sound Designer Kenny Neal, and Props Designer Andrea “Dre” Moore) outdoes themselves with this show, creating the illusions of a stampede, a monsoon, an erupting volcano, and jungle animals on the loose, including a massive lion and meddlesome monkeys.
The story starts with two siblings, Judy (Billie Krishawn) and Peter (Ryan Dalusung), who attempt to cure their boredom by playing an old, unfamiliar board game they have found. The two quickly discover that the game is all too real, when every roll of the dice brings another live-action encounter with wild animals and natural disasters taking over their home.
The game soon turns up a jungle guide, played by the wildly energetic and hysterical Elan Zafir, and the kids realize that the only way to get through their adventure is to play the game to the very end.
Zafir is also one of the puppeteers, along with Julia Klavans, and Jacob Yeh, who double as the Mom and Dad respectively.
The cast does a fantastic job creating and maintaining the level of intensity required for this show to work. With the tremendous amount of effects, imagination and commitment are needed from the audience in order to make the show believable, and the entire cast and crew draws the audience in flawlessly and never loses their focus.
ATMTC is marketing Jumanji as appropriate for ages 4 and up, due to some of the more suspenseful moments.
Jumanji is action-packed and is a heart-pumping, visually-stimulating treat for the whole family! Do not miss out on the epic journey.
Running Time: 45 minutes, with no intermission.