Sunday, November 14, 2010

Jungal Book

The weekends are often times we catch up on arts and cultural classes.  Last weekend it was art and poetry; this weekend it is drama.

Today we went to see the Raleigh Little Theater production of Jungal Book, an adaptation of Rudyard Kipling's book, The Jungle Book.  This is RLT's 75th year of community theater, which is certainly something to celebrate.  Another thing to celebrate about RLT is that they have a wonderful educational program, operating a number of classes for children from preschoolers through teenagers throughout the year as well as an entire calendar of family-appropriate plays (of which Jungal Book is one of the four  regular productions this year).

I have to begin by admitting our bias.  One of my son's good friends, a boy whom we homeschool with, is playing the lead role of Mowgli, the human boy who is raised by wolves.  So we were pre-disposed to like the show.  Even so, I think it was a marvelous show.  The cast, many of whom were young people who participate in the RLT student drama classes (like our friend), was very professional and talented for their ages.  The costuming is beautiful; rather than dress everyone up in animal costumes, most people play colorful Indian outfits with hats or face make up that suggests their animal parts.   There is also a good bit of dance throughout the show--the fights are choreographed to suggest violence, and such key roles as Kaa the Python and Chil the Vulture are danced, rather than merely acting.   Plus, important features, such as the River or Rain, are portrayed by a chorus of women dancing with sequined and mirrored blue silk, providing quite an arresting visual display of natural phenomenon.

The themes of the adaptation are also appropriate for a young audience.  One major issue is the rule of law--for even in the jungle, the animals have adopted a set of laws that facilitate their living together.  The reality of nature--the fact that animals kill each other in order to eat, and the fact that the weak and old are eventually conquered by the strong and the young--is presented honestly, but not brutally.  But one of the major topics addresses a concern that is critical for a middle school audience:  namely, where do I belong and how do I fit in?  Mowgli's big question in the play is whether he belongs to the wolf pack that took him in and raised him, or to the community of humans to which he physically is linked.    The play ends with a great message of love, but also of the need to accept who we are, whether we like it or not.  Mowgli's dilemma is a great metaphor for the young adolescent quest of figuring out where they fit within a social group while still being true to themselves.

The play has another week to run, with shows during the week and weekend.   If you live in the Raleigh area, I recommend trying to see it before it ends.  But be advised that many shows, such as today's matinee, are sold out, so reserve your tickets soon if you want to see it.

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