The Last Firefly at the Children’s Theatre Co.

Sun Mee Chomet in The Last Firefly. Photo by Dan Norman.

Sun Mee Chomet in The Last Firefly. Photo by Dan Norman.

To be present at the opening night performance of a play’s world premiere on a major Twin Cities stage is like experiencing the world through the eyes of a child, everything is new. So it was for a nearly sold out audience at the Children’s Theatre Company when playwright Naomi Iizuka’s new play, The Last Firefly, opened last evening. The lights went down, a simple melody began, and Joy Dolo, as Kuroko the mother, began the tale of a boy named Boom, born of his earthly mother and Thunder, his father.

Boom (well played in a demanding role by Ricardo Vasquez) and his mother live in the forest with a brutish woodcutter named Ax (Luverne Seifert in one of his scariest roles). After a disturbing scene where Ax tortures the boy’s pet bird, the boy and his mother flee their home and Boom sets out on a journey to find his father, whom he has never met. He soon befriends Monkey (an engaging Sun Mee Chomet) and the two go off to catch Lightening, with the logic that Lightening must know where Thunder is since she chases him across the sky in stormy weather.

Writer Naomi Iizuka along with the CTC design team give the story and its characters a distinctly manga style. This is especially evident in the character of Lightening, a woman warrior dressed as a Samurai, strikingly portrayed by Stephanie Bertrumen. Her stylized moves and fight scenes bring a manga warrior to life. Lighting designer, Paul Whitaker makes the CTC stage blaze as Lightening battles with young Boom.

This production looks good with richly textured costumes (Helen Huang), effective sound and music (by Ivey award winning Victor Zupanc) and expressive puppets that range in size from minute flies to one gigantic sea turtle (Eric Van Wyk).

Director Peter Brosius exercises a nearly flawless touch with this drama, pacing is good and each character is clearly defined. There are moments where the characters hold a composed scene–as if in a panel of a manga comic. This is never overtly static which would ruin the flow of action, but it’s there if you look for it. A scene where the Monkey catches fireflies to lure Lightening works very well at a time in the show when it needs a few moments of restful magic.

It is not easy to bring a successful play to the stage for younger audiences. There is a wide range of tastes between the ages of 3 and 16. What is too frightening and unintelligible for the younger audience is just right for a 10-year-old. The Last Firefly points up some of these difficulties. Iizuka brings to life a tale that is at times both heartening and adventurous. It is also violent, particularly in the scenes with Ax. While this is a trademark of the manga style CTC wisely recommends The Last Firefly for ages 8 and up.

In contrast the play’s ending neatly wraps the story up with an almost Aesop’s fable moral tag and sweeps lose ends up in a line or two. This all seems a little too pat for a 12-year-old to enjoy. An astute parent may wish to be ready to discuss the play with their older child in a more adult fashion. As is customary the play’s program notes give a parent good jumping off points for further discussion.

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