Heron & Crane
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
August 18, 2010
If you know a young person—between the age of, say, 3 and 10—who has never yet been to the theatre, then my advice is to quickly take him or her to Heron & Crane at the New York International Fringe Festival. (It only runs until August 21, so do this now!) I cannot think of a better way to introduce a child to the magic and energy of theatre than via this delightful show. And of course, kids who already know how cool theatre is are going to get a charge out of it, too.
That, certainly, was the verdict at the performance I attended: the two dozen or so small fry in the audience were engaged from start to finish, smiling and really participating because this is an interactive show that really means it. (The parents/grown-ups seemed to be having a hoot, too.)
Hailing from Austin Texas, DA! Theatre Collective specializes in programming for young people; co-directors Heather Huggins and Kirk German are both educators with a strong interest in storytelling (and Huggins studied at the Vakhtangov Theatre in Moscow, which perhaps is what led DA! to their interest in adapting their plays from Russian fairy tales). This one, written by German, is based on the tale of the friendship between two birds in a swamp. Miss Heron is neat, organized, and enjoys things like pie-making and leaf-raking; Mr. Crane, a newcomer to this particular neighborhood, is messy and free-spirited and likes to play with his toys and go sledding in the snow. Heron & Crane follows these two through an eventful year in which they make all kinds of mistakes as they struggle to get along. Finally, with the audience's help, they learn that differences as well as commonalities are important to a strong friendship.
The performance itself is charming and inventive, and features the very graceful Lisa del Rosario as Heron (her moves are delightfully birdlike as she fishes and "flies" about the stage) and the endearingly goofy Jude Hickey as Crane (who plays this bird like the adorable but mischievous little brother we all either had or wished we had). They're accompanied by a three-piece band, and also frequently by the audience, who are coached pre-show in making the various swamp noises that the story requires: the whoosh of the wind, the buzzing of bees, and so on. Perhaps the most lovely moment in Heron & Crane comes when Hickey steps out of character to teach the audience how to make a storm, starting with anticipatory sounds of rubbing our hands together and then culminating in the big booms of slapping our knees furiously. Lovely.
I was surprised that author/director German also interrupts the story near its end; he freezes the action and has a discussion with the kids in the auditorium about what problems the characters are having and how they might be solved. Far from being intrusive, this proved to be just as engaging as the rest of the show, and the kids were wonderfully willing participants in resolving Heron and Crane's dilemma about how to be friends. (I wonder, perhaps only slightly with tongue in cheek, if this might not be a useful technique at so-called adult shows, too.)
The proof, anyway, is in the pudding here: I watched a room full of youngsters take authentically active roles in the telling of this theatrical story, and all seemed quite satisfied as they trooped out. I hope we'll see our friends from DA! back in NYC again soon.