The power of imagination
Charming production channels power of imagination into a grand adventure
FOR Prairie kids here in land-locked Winnipeg, the notion of spending your life on a boat, sailing the ocean, is a beguiling fantasy all on its own.
For Peg (Jennifer Balen), the heroine of the kids’ play Peg and the Yeti, life on the sea is everyday life. She spends most of her days on a fishing boat with her loving parents.
But she’s a girl with a vivid imagination, and she dreams of going from the “bottom of the world” to the very top, climbing Mount Everest.
Playwright Monica Dufault adapted Kenneth Oppel’s much-loved children’s book of the same name and added a premise that acknowledges Peg’s adventure as an exercise in fantasy.
To realize her dream, Mom (Ntara Curry) and Dad (Mark Crawford) are required to play along, assisting Peg by packing for her mission, and even peppering Peg’s dream with the addition of a giant abominable snowman monster — the Yeti — who becomes markedly less abominable when bribed with delicious “pork scruncheons” from Peg’s backpack.
The second play in MTYP’s season, Peg and the Yeti is targeted to kids between the ages of three and seven and, judging by a Thursday morning school performance, it plays to them beautifully. The theatre employs a rarely used “alley” stage configuration with seats on either side of the fishing boat set in the centre of the theatre.
The kids in the audience are presumed to be Peg’s friends, who come along for the ride. A few of them may be enlisted to help when Peg uses some sails to replicate the effects of an avalanche, a scene that qualifies as the play’s lovely, vivid centrepiece.
By its very premise, Peg and the Yeti serves as an excellent introduction to theatre as an elaborate exercise in “pretend.” The use of props is especially ingenious, as when a table, a box and a ladder are employed to serve as a locomotive, or when three ladders of different heights constitute the treacherous mountain terrain of the Himalayas.
Even so, it’s not all fun and games. In a scene preceding an avalanche, the overtired Peg suffers a bit of a meltdown when she expresses dissatisfaction with how the game is going. (The British have the best word to describe a child in this state of exhausted belligerence: stroppy.)
If kids are able to recognize this kind of behaviour in themselves, they also get to see the healing properties of a sincere apology and a hug in action.
For an actress on the other side of 20, Balen makes for an engaging eight-year-old, with a big voice and big gestures that still feel natural.
Curry and Crawford have to exercise more delicacy playing mom and dad, demonstrating boundless love for their offspring, but also setting limits in a way that doesn’t alienate them from Peg’s “friends” in the theatre seats.
When you see them working as a synchronized unit to play the giant Yeti, it becomes especially clear why director Pablo Felices-Luna cast Curry, a seasoned dancer, as Mom.
From top, Mark Crawford, Ntara Curry and Jennifer Balen set sail on an imagination-fuelled journey to Mount Everest in Peg and the Yeti.