Seedfolks by the Children’s Theatre Company

Sonja Parks in Seedfolks. Photo by Dan Norman.

Sonja Parks in Seedfolks. Photo by Dan Norman.

In the affecting Seedfolks (Childrens Theatre Company, through Nov 16), the central metaphor is established early, and the play (adapted from a novel by Paul Fleischman; by whom the program provides no clue) never deviates from it: the garden.

Planted initially by a young girl who puts a few bean seeds into the ground (magic bean seeds!; one can’t help but think of courageous young Jack). Soon, the garden takes rollicking shape. The foul junk is expunged. Plants – Tomatoes! Veggies! – are sown, watched over (guarded) by many denizens of the inner city neighborhood in which Seedfolks is set: small business owners, retirees, shut-ins, street people, hoodlums, et al. Owned by everyone and no one, the garden galvanizes the community.

Seedfolks is set in Cleveland but really it could be Anycity, USA. Aside from the working out of the garden metaphor, not a lot happens in this piece. But Seedfolks celebrates, and this very effectively, diversity, the power of Nature with a capital N, the pure unadorned richness of humanity. There are many characters – African-American, Hispanic, Vietnamese, Korean, Caucasian – and they come together to nurture the garden with a minimum of conflict. The garden brings everyone together.

All these characters are played by the luminous and uber-talented Sonja Parks. Parks does yeoperson work in Seedfolks, switching from character to character with grasshopper-like speed and astonishing ingenuity. She deftly sketches in each one (and she gets, no doubt, much help from able director Peter Brosius) and gives each a defining physicality. Parks, lean and lithe, athletically takes and holds the stage. For an hour and fifteen minutes, everyone in the CTC’s Cargill theater was in her sway. I was.

There are drawbacks to her approach. I found Parks’s panoply of humanity awe-inspiring, but so many characters made the play at times difficult to follow. Parks too often relies on (the rare) curvature of the spine to define characters. Call me a crusty and cynical fuddy-duddy, but, impressive as Parks is, I couldn’t help but think that a real cast, with each character getting his/her own actor, wouldn’t render this story more effectively.

But you will likely disagree with me and there can be no doubt that in this show Parks gives an inspired and graceful performance.

Finally, I have to praise the excellent work in Seedfolks of projection designer Jorge Cousineau, whose video game-like rendering of the neighborhood provides just the right combination of specificity and universality. On several occasions, Cousineau takes through walls, directly into flats: breath-taking.

See this play: you won’t often get a chance to witness the work of a performer of Sonja Parks’s caliber.

For more info about John Olive please log onto his soon to be updated website.

 

 

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