Director Catherine Dezseran's thoughtful program notes for her adaptation of Kenneth Grahame's children's classic, "The Wind in the Willows," speak of the importance of self-awareness and individualism and the discovery of the child within each of us.
The set for this Cal State Northridge production is lovely. Jerry Abbitt has designed a forest, beautifully rendered to look like an ink-and-watercolor book illustration.
It is there that the sensitivity stops, however.
Dezseran has allowed her actors to mistake loudness for emphasis. The resulting cacophony makes the one-hour program exhausting to sit through.
Only Bob Rounds, as the self-important Toad, attempts to shade his dialogue, but Rounds is unable to communicate a sense of fun and the indomitable spirit that makes Toad seek adventure and the open road, despite the disasters that befall him.
As the friends who work hard to keep Toad out of mischief, Daniel E. Mulia, Peggy Medina and James P. Trino come across as annoying do-gooders rather than loving, if exasperated comrades. Medina's timid Mole is shrill and whiny, while Mulia, as the sensible Ratty, and Trino as stern Badger are simply loud.
The evil Weasels, the torment of the gentle river dwellers, are played by several masked actors in ragged, punk-type costumes. They have no dialogue here--their function is to move an occasional prop and, with screams, express glee, anger or surprise.
Melissa Crook plays the Dungeon Master's daughter who helps Toad escape from prison. She has been permitted, for some unfathomable reason, to eat an apple during her scene. Bits of the apple fly from her mouth while she delivers guttural, almost unintelligible lines, spraying Rounds and littering the stage.
Abbitt's stationary set, though attractive, allows no versatility. With each scene change, it is difficult to keep track of where the characters are. Whether underground, in the woods or in Toad Hall, the action almost always seems to be taking place on the riverbank where it started.
Dezseran ends her program notes with the hope that, like Grahame, "we can all discover that everlasting child (within)who maintains touch with nature and self, who hears most clearly the sound of 'the wind in the willows.' "
It won't happen here.
The show tours to Citrus College in Glendora on Saturday at 2 p.m., (818)963-9411, and to UCLA's Wadsworth Theatre on Sunday at 1:30 and 3:30 p.m., (213)271-6402.