Kiddie show dares tackle food chain, nature’s snags

Virtually everything’s so politically correct these days, so sanitized, that I’m quite chary about what I verbally tackle.

“The Night Fairy,” the new play in the intimate, charming Bay Area Children’s Theatre’s new 60-seat house in Berkeley, is much braver. Unlike most presentations for kids, it doesn’t limit itself to fantasy but deals with nature in all its snags and complexities — including the food chain.

It’s an eye-opener aimed at youngsters eight and up, although the performance I caught drew more than a few toddlers who — despite some of the serious, informative text clearly being over their heads — seemed enthralled by the super-sized garden set designed by Martin Flynn, imaginative costumes designed by Amy Bobeda, shadow puppetry and the actors’ antics.

Kaleena Newman assumes the title role in “The Night Fairy.” Photo by Melissa Nigro.

An emotive storyline peppered with humor tracks the plight of Flory, a ready-to-fight creature thrust into survival mode (after a bat accidentally tears off her wings) in a tiny, unfamiliar, treacherous world overseen by unseen humans they perceive to be giants.

Its upshot, happily, isn’t about fear or death but how we can help ourselves by helping each other. A bat character, in fact, succinctly sums up the running theme: “We all need a little help sometimes.”

Even when it comes to finding food and protecting un-hatched eggs.

The play doesn’t feature the usual evil witches or sorcerers, goblins or evil mustache-twirling villains. But the one-act show, adapted by John Glore from the book of the same name by Laura Amy Schlitz, doesn’t avoid the all-too-real dark side.

Like, for instance, one critter — ripping a page from Donald Trump’s hubris-filled playbook — boasting about never saying, “I’m sorry.”

Each of the four youthful performers (adeptly guided by co-directors Hannah Dworkin and Nina Meehan) is highly skilled: Kaleena Newman as feisty Flory, who loves playful piggy-back rides but is willing to grow up; Jack Nicolaus as the always hungry Skuggle the Squirrel (and a raccoon); Jamella Cross as the bat that sleeps upside down, and a fast-moving hummingbird; and Amanda Nguyen as a sympathetic spider and a wren.

Unique is the adjunct to the 55-minute performance, a brief Q&A session that follows it.

With the four actors first posing questions to the audience (and demonstrating how a “fight” scene was choreographed), then answering queries from the tots.

The kids weren’t the least bit shy about responding. Or asking.

“The Night Fairy” plays through Dec. 30 at the Second Stage of the new BACT Theatre Center, 2055 Center St., Berkeley. Night performances, 7 p.m. Fridays; matinees, 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets: $20 to $26. Information: www.bactheatre.org or (510) 296-4433.

Contact Woody Weingarten at voodee@sbcglobal.net or at www.vitalitypress.com/

About the Author

Woody WeingartenWoody Weingarten, who can be reached at www.vitalitypress.com/ or voodee@sbcglobal.net, can’t remember when he couldn’t talk — or play with words. His first poem was published in high school but when his hormones announced the arrival of adulthood, he figured he’d rather eat than rhyme. So he switched to journalism. And whadda ya know, the bearded, bespectacled fella has used big, small and hyphenated words professionally since jumpstarting his career in New Yawk City more than 60 years ago. Today the author of the book “Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner’s breast cancer” is also a reviewer-critic, blogger and publisher — despite allegedly being retired. During his better-paid years as a wage slave he was an executive editor and writer for daily and weekly publications in California, Florida, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York. He won writing awards for public service and investigation, features, columns, editorials and news. Woody also has published weekly and monthly newspapers, and written a national column for “Audio” magazine. A graduate of Colgate University, he owned a public relations/ad agency and managed an advertising publication. The father of two and grandfather of three, he and his wife, Nancy Fox, have lived in San Anselmo in Marin County for three decades. He figures they'll stay.View all posts by Woody Weingarten →