T. James Belich

Crashing "The Wind in the Willows"

One of the wonderful things about being a playwright is seeing your work fly to the far corners of the country and the globe and find life where you never could have imagined. One of the downsides of being a playwright is that airfare is expensive and you don't usually have the good fortune of flying with it.

Last night, however, my adaptation of The Wind in the Willows landed a little closer to home: just across the river in Plymouth, Minnesota performed by the Plymouth Homeschool Story Stagers. And so armed with the knowledge of when and where I showed up at Pilgrim United Methodist Church at about 6:45, took a program, quietly found myself a seat, and sat back to enjoy the show, with no one in the cast or crew any the wiser. :D

And the performance was delightful. The scenery was simple yet charming. The tall, lanky Toad knew how to work the audience with a physicality that entertained even when he wasn't speaking. The gruff Badger commanded the stage, and the whole crew of Weasels and Ferrets took great delight in their malevolent antics. I'd heard my version read, but had never seen it performed live, and it was extremely gratifying to see how both the actors and audience connected with it. Most of the cast were in their teens, with a few younger, and many of them have performed together in this group for years. Being a more character-driven piece I think it lends itself more to teen actors than those younger, and after the show the cast and director (who works with my father-in-law at North Central University, small world!) spoke of the challenges these characters provided. It speaks highly of the group that they were willing to take on that challenge, and I hope that doing so will serve them well as they continue to grow as performers.

I introduced myself to the director, Wayne Matthews, during intermission and he revealed my presence to the cast afterwards. But it was wonderful to enjoy the performance as an audience member, to see what they did with the characters and the technical challenges (my favorite was when several of the cast came out as trees to portray the Wild Wood... then turned around to reveal themselves as the Weasels and Ferrets, a truly theatrical moment). So congrats to the cast and crew of the Homeschool Story Stagers on a job well done, and best of luck to them at tonight's and tomorrow's performances!

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