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NOVEMBER 27, 2013

The Red Thread

Ideas of children’s theater conjure many images – mediocre acting, sets that appear as if they were made with Elmer’s Glue, and a story that can’t keep kids engaged for more than a few minutes.

Colorful original work of theatrical art not just for kids

Ideas of children’s theater conjure many images – mediocre acting, sets that appear as if they were made with Elmer’s Glue, and a story that can’t keep kids engaged for more than a few minutes. But Miami Theater Center’s production of the very original and creative The Red Thread takes so-called “children’s theater” to new heights. This is inspired theater for kids, for adults, for the masses.
The original work was written by Artistic Director Stephanie Ansin (who also directed the production) and MTC Artist-In-Residence Fernando Calzadilla. It premiered as a Playground Theatre production in 2011, and they’ve smartly revived it, because a work like this deserves to be seen and not buried in a theater trunk somewhere. The PlayGround Theatre is no longer, by the way – Ansin transitioned it to Miami Theater Center, which is now offering additional shows and classes that appeal to adults.
Inspired by ancient Chinese folktales, The Red Thread tells the story of a young girl, Ling Shih, who embarks on a journey to find a treasured tapestry created by her father, Gong Shao, and sold by her two sisters, Yao Xue and Mei Hua, without their father’s permission. During her quest through China, she discovers much about family, respect, love, and tradition. And, in classic fable-ese, learns valuable lessons along the way.
Set in ancient China with a Far East fairy tale setting and characters names that are faithful to the heritage, Ansin and Calzadilla have written the play to reflect its time period, but have added Westernized influences. The characters, although dressed in traditional costumes, have modern mannerisms, which will help keep kids entertained who are more gratified by virtual video on an iPad than live actors on a stage. Yet, the superbly ethereal creativity of the entire production, including Octavio Campos’s gliding choreography, makes The Red Thread almost operatic in its presentation. Adding to the tone is an original soundtrack by Luciano Stazzone, which is electronica inspired with an Asian flare (is this available on ITunes? It should be).
Nikki Lowe as oldest daughter Yao Xue gets the most laughs for her modernity as the rebellious teen who steals the tapestry in order for the family to get money. She adds a wonderful energy to the opening scenes. Joshua Jean-Baptiste is the artistic weaver who believes with the right piece of red thread he can finish is masterpiece, and Natalia Coego is the middle daughter who gets caught up in her older sister’s thieving plan.brown
Diana Garle plays Ling Shih with such conviction and spontaneity that it seems as if even she doesn’t know where she’ll end up; a tip of the hat to Ansin’s direction for imbuing this sense of an almost Where’s Waldo? adventure throughout.
Troy Davidson’s booming baritone voice and his fluid movements create the right energy for the Guairen, the mystic, who teaches Ling Shih the way to solve her problems through a mantra: “Envision the solution and you will find the way.” He’s especially captivating in the opening as he methodically draws back the red curtain that is made up of what seems like thousands of long, red threads. It’s a wonderful device that recalls opening the pages of a book.
redMarjorie O’Neill-Butler as the selfishly stern Queen of Khotan (she played the role in the original production) has the daunting task of wearing a headpiece that can’t help but steal attention upon her entrance. Her character is bolder than the hat, though, and her portrayal is stylishly reminiscent of the famous wicked queens a la Disney, a good approach for kids who will find a comforting familiarity to those icons.
Alexander Zenoz as Wang, the Prince of Khotan, has the dashing good looks of a Disney prince and is given some incredible martial arts moves and a magnificent drum dance to dramatically convey his frustrations.
The entire 90-minute production is tied together by a crew of ninja warriors who seamlessly move set pieces around, and carry tangrams, puzzle-like pieces on long sticks, which are put together to create amazing images. It is during awe-inspiring scenes like these in The Red Thread that the story matters little and, like a fireworks show, audiences can’t help but ooh and ahh beautifully rendered colors and sheer artistry in set design, lighting design, sound design and costuming. Never has children’s theater looked so good.
The Red Thread plays through Dec. 22 at the Miami Theater Center, 9806 NE 2nd Ave., Miami Shores. Performances 10 a.m. Tuesday-Friday, 7 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. (305) 751-9550 or