Kim Peter Kovac (Kennedy Center for Performing Arts and Theatre For Young Audiences National) says, “Part of what’s happening on stage is similar to play-acting all children do… (to understand the world).”
As a veteran Boston youth theatre teacher/writer/director/
Specifically, decades of touring living-history shows proves for me “acting” opens students to history in a way reading alone doesn’t do.
And colleagues who portray scientists feel the same about their science-shows. I bet there’s a “math-actor” somewhere who has made
math a fun story — if not we need to develop one! Any necessary topic
can be made approachable through theatre techniques. And, it’s fun!
Rainbow Company Youth Theatre of Las Vegas is a nationally recognized theatre education program which produces a four-show season of family oriented theatre annually. (Auditions open to community with all students exploring all aspects of on and off stage.) Additionally, a touring ensemble of RCYT performs (for upward of 14,000 eager viewers) an original musical focused on Nevada history!
A new show each year!
For decades! Wow!
With these facts in mind I applaud RYCT’s “Ozma of Oz: A Tale of Time” based on L. Frank Baum’s third book “Ozma of Oz” as adapted by children’s playright Suzan Zeder at Charleston Heights Arts Center in West Las Vegas.
From the moment I was greeted by Gary Easton (distributing tickets with enthusiastic intelligence) to chatting with multi-talented Kristopher Shepherd (theatre program specialist and pseudonymed set-designer)and charming Jake Rouse as usher (who loves all aspects
of theatre) to the final rousing applause, I was, well, “Wowed!” (A favorite phrase of a certain downtown arts-district re-inventor). I wanted to meet every single technical and acting member but that wasn’t practical.
Ozma is the long-lost daughter of long-deceased King Pastoria and Lurline who ruled in Oz long before the (humbug) Wizard arrived and before the Emerald City was built (by his conning people). She is always portrayed with long hair, a crown with OZ at center and wearing a flowing dress alluding to her 1/2 fairy-1/2 human nature—except in
this version— where she is interpreted as an archer in boots and no crown (played matter-of-factly by Faith Read).
We follow 13-year-old Dorothy Gale (compassionately played by Morgan Johnson) and Uncle Henry (endearingly done by Thomas Dyer) through a ship wreck, kidnapping, odd encounters, rescue and return (with their souls bettered for the journey) for an hour and a half in real time. OZ time, however, is controlled by a key that winds up TicToc (articulated perfectly by Keegan Nakano).
A cast of 22 adeptly play 17 characters, each with remarkable believability and appropriate humor, especially Bill (!) the
(egglaying) Chicken (Deimoni Brewington).
The set was “New York style fantastic” as designed by “Kris Van Riper” (rumored to have several personas).
Its clever allusions to other Oz tales thrilled me and added a sophisticated dimension to this play. Another brilliant tech feature was impeccably done shadow-stick-puppetry!
And costumes, OMG! Again, by tireless, brilliant designer Maria Radeva-Nedyalkova, who I recently raved about for her breathtaking CSN and UNLV works! (Does this woman sleep?!)
Director Sean Critchfield brought a well-paced, blocked, interpreted piece to us from “amateurs.” Wonderful.
By the way, I tried the audio-assist device and found it helpful as a senior with a modest hearing challenge.
Who would think a community center would have such upscale amenities that work! That tells you
there is a treasure, run by the City of Las Vegas, waiting to thrill you with shows, classes, and volunteer opportunities year round. This beautiful building with good sound is waiting for, you!
Baum went on to write thirteen more novels based on places and people of Oz with his final, Glinda of Oz, published a year after his death in 1919. The Oz series was continued by other authors, notably Ruth Plumly Thompson, who wrote an additional nineteen Oz books.
He was married to women’s suffrage advocate Maud Gage whose mother’s radical feminist politics were incorporated by Baum into his Oz books.
Baum was secretary of Aberdeen’s Woman’s Suffrage Club and when Susan B. Anthony visited, she stayed with the Baums. Some of Baum’s contacts with suffragists seem to have inspired much of his second Oz story, The Marvelous Land of Oz. In this story, the girls and women of Oz, armed with knitting needles, in revolt succeed, and make men do household chores!
There are contending theses about OZ references to politics. For example, 1902 version had Tin Woodman wondering what he would do if he ran out of oil—”You wouldn’t be as badly off as John D. Rockefeller,” the Scarecrow responds, “He’d lose six thousand dollars a minute if that happened.”
Over the years interpretations to update politics have emerged.
Economist-historian Quentin Taylor claimed many events and characters of the book resemble actual political personalities, events and ideas of 1890s. Dorothy is naive, young and simple, representing American Everyman.
Following the road of gold (monetary standard) leads eventually only to the Emerald City, which may symbolize the fraudulent world of greenback paper money not backed by resources that only pretends to have value like the wizard. It is ruled by a scheming politician (the Wizard) who uses publicity devices and tricks to fool the people (and even the Good Witches) into believing he is benevolent, wise, and powerful when really he is selfish and cruel. He sends Dorothy into severe danger hoping she will rid him of his enemy the Wicked Witch of the West. He is powerless and, as he admits to Dorothy, “I’m a very bad Wizard.”
Taylor sees additional metaphors, including: The Scarecrow as American farmers and their troubles in late 19th century; Tin Man as American steel industry’s failures to combat increased international competition at the time; Cowardly Lion as American military’s
performance in the Spanish-American War, and so on.
Oz has grown beyond children’s stories as its icons are recognized across the world and continue to lead to new parodies, allegories and pastiches.
Anthony Del Valle (past revered and feared Vegas theatre critic) said Rainbow Youth Theatre is “one of the best among our educational institutions, a hearty bravo!” I couldn’t agree more.