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A breath of fresh air for an uplifting classic

October 31, 2002|Lynne Heffley | Times Staff Writer

"The Red Balloon," a warm and poignant tale about a lonely little boy who is befriended by a puppy-like balloon, started life as a novel by Albert Lamorisse and became an Oscar-winning short film in 1956.

In recent years, Scotland's remarkable Visible Fictions Theatre Company, one of the U.K.'s leading theaters for young audiences, has given the story another magical incarnation: a live stage production.

Audiences can see this delightful signature work in the company's touring production that runs Friday at Irvine Barclay Theatre and Nov. 15 at Thousand Oaks Performing Arts Center.

When little Pascal (Christina Cochran) has his playful spirit squelched by impatient adults (Stewart Cairns, Mary Well and Yngvil Vatn Guttu in multiple roles), he finds a kindred spirit in a mischievous balloon (gracefully manipulated, puppet-style, by Cairns).

Their exuberant friendship sweeps a few self-conscious adults along in its wake, but threats exist, too, in the form of teachers, bullies and a scolding mom.

Thanks to director Annie Wood, a gifted adult cast, and the expressive simplicity of Karen Tennent's design, Lamorisse's captivating tale is vibrantly alive, a treat for grown-ups too.

Wood fills the stage with dynamic physical movement: droll encounters between bustling adults during their morning rush, actors twirling orange umbrellas for bus wheels, glimpses of city life behind doors and windows that open and close with comic snap. Meanwhile, the joyful and gentle interplay between the boy and his balloon is counterbalanced by dignity-deflating slapstick aimed at the rigid adults.

A question overheard during Saturday's show at Glendora's Haugh Performing Arts Center testified to the play's ability to spark imaginations.

"Why is her mom like that?" a child was heard asking when Pascal's mother (unseen) scolded him. The small observer may not have realized that Pascal, though played by a woman, was supposed to be a boy, but she accepted without reservation the company's creation of a world of humor, play, adult displeasure and poignant friendship.


`The Red Balloon'

Where: Irvine Barclay Theatre, 4242 Campus Drive

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday

Cost: $11 to $15

Info: (949) 854-4646.

Other: Also at Fred Kavli Theatre, Thousand Oaks Performing Arts Center, 2100 Thousand Oaks Blvd.. Nov. 15, 7 p.m. $14 to $18. (805) 650-9688; (805) 646-8907.

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