Friday, November 9, 2012
Special to TorSun
9 NOV 2012
It's a good thing, one suspects, that kids so enjoy the poetry of Dennis Lee. Because, even if they didn't find such joy in Lee's sweet and simple rhymes, they'd still no doubt face a more-or-less constant diet of his verse, read to them by parents who apparently can't get enough of the off-beat charm of Toronto's most beloved children's poet. For proof, look no further than the stage adaption of a collection of Lee's work, assembled under the title of one his most enduring works, ALLIGATOR PIE, which hit the stage of the Young Centre Tuesday, the handiwork of Soulpepper's recently-minted creation ensemble.
Tellingly, at the end of this hour-long romp, during which creators Ins Choi, Raquel Duffy, Ken MacKenzie, Gregory Prest and Mike Ross hold the younger members of their audience in complete thrall, the cries of "More! More! More!" came from the adults accompanying those children. And while credit for that, at least in part, must go to the utter charm with which this quintet has gotten in touch with their inner brats and brought them to life to inject the right spirit into what proves to be a delightful compilation of Lee's work, much more of it must go to the work itself.
Lee's poetry, after all, whether he's playing with silly doggerel or examining the ties of childhood friendship, has always seemed to plug directly into the notion that the childhood we try to complicate at every turn is often really nothing more than a blissful state of mind. And from the moment Choi, Duffy, MacKenzie, Prest and Ross make their entrance — seemingly arriving by pure chance in a strange attic space, littered with the assorted detritus of everyday life — they seem to have a direct connection to that bliss, channeling it at every turn as they work their way through Lee's stuff.
Some of his poems, of course, are merely recited, their simple rhythms driven home with enthusiastic and highly creative percussive force, but a lot of them are sung too, and while there is no composer or musical director credited, the utter joy that infuses Ross's face tells us from where this music has sprung. Along the way, they employ a host of seemingly found costumes and props, finding new and deliciously inventive uses for everything from a racquet case to staplers, scissors and scotch tape, before going completely over the top with a length of bubblewrap that could well result in it becoming one of the most requested toys of the Christmas season.
From start to finish, it's a delightful romp, but what is ultimately its greatest charm is not its childish spirit of fun and adventure but the depth of its heart, for while ALLIGATOR PIE is certainly driven by a child's love of playful invention, it revels in a child's need to give and receive affection, regardless of whether he or she is two or 82. Which, come to think of it, is pretty much the age range to whom this show will appeal.