The beloved children’s fantasy, “The Phantom Tollbooth” written by Susan Nanus, based on the book by Norman Juster, produced by Win Britt and Ronda Ansted and directed by Jon Gardner is presently playing at the Greenbelt Arts Center in Greenbelt, Maryland until December 15, 2019. There are Saturday and Sunday matinees as well as Friday evening performances.
If you are looking for a different but fun outing for your young ones and would like to introduce them to the magic of a live performance, “The Phantom Tollbooth” might be just the thing. Its plot which follows a little boy, Milo, in his toy car along with sidekicks he meets along the way, to Dictionopolis and Digitopolis, and finally, the Castle in the Air is familiar to many of the children due to the popularity of Juster’s book. Also appealing to kids will be the cast of many young thespians. The three-quarter-round setting makes for more intimate theatre, perfect for youngsters who may not be comfortable in a more traditional venue.
Travel down to the Greenbelt Arts Center this holiday season and catch ‘The Phantom Tollbooth’ and follow Milo on his road to adventure. You won’t even need an Easy Pass to get there.
Harper Chadwick plays Milo. She manages so well to get into character, I did not realize until intermission that the role was being played by a girl. (I was informed by her younger brother whose name is, coincidentally, Milo.) Findley Holland, just a junior in high school, captures the Watchdog, Tock, and makes the pup endearing to the audience.
Aref Dajani, an adult actor, plays Humbug with a taste of Oliver Hardy. David Buckingham, also a grown-up, does a fine job as Azaz the Unabridged, King of Dictionopolis, as does Wes Dennis, The Mathemagician and King of Digitopolis.
The rest of the adult cast, Michael Abendshein (Kakafonous A. Dischord, The Terrible Trivium and Waiter), Daniel Dausman (Dodecahedron, Word Merchant and Lethargarian), Julia Frank (Everpresent Wordsnatcher, Word Merchant, Lethargarian), ;Kirsten Hines (Minister, Numbers Miner) Emily Kranking (Lethargarian, Waiter, Demon), Penny Martin (Minister, Numbers Miner) a and Kaitlyn Whiting (Minister, Numbers Miner). ll give excellent performances.
Then, there are those adorable and talented youngsters. Sophie Cooper (Spelling Bee, Lethargarian) and Lydia Kalshoven (Whether Man, Gatekeeper, and Demon) both have lots of energy and stage presence. However, all the kids did remarkable jobs. They range from teens to early elementary school age. They include Calista Ausema (Page), Faith Ball (Awful Dynne, Demon), Linden Dirksen (Minister, Numbers Miner), Jason Kalshoven (Minister, Number Miner), Grace Krage (Demon of Insincerity, Word Merchant, Lethargarian), Julia May (The Letterman, The Senses Taker, Lethargarian), Ruby Raymond (Princess Pure Reason), and Stella Raymond (Princess Sweet Rhyme).
Gardner does well with this predominately youthful cast. He also understands that he has to not only entertain the youngsters in the audience but those of us who are more mature. He does this by emphasizing the plays on words like a Whether Man who has trouble making decisions and the Senses Taker whose questions are designed to take away your sense of reason. Of course, the themes of losing Rhyme and Reason and that words and numbers can survive side by side are underscored. Gardner also has some interactive exchanges between the audience and the actors. It was done seamlessly and brought the young audience into the story. Gardner also designed the set which also is clever. He uses half flats that are brought out as the play starts and at every scene change. There are three pieces that were painted as one. By having several sets of three small portable pieces, scene changes go quickly. The hardware that held up the flats is later used to create steps. Even Milo’s car is done with care.
The costumes by Susan Neff were bright, colorful and sometimes very cute as with the Spelling Bee and Tock. The adult costumes also showed much creativity, in particular, the two kings. Shemika Renee did Hair and Makeup Design which also is important in this tale. She also has the kids’ hair arranged neatly, comfortably and attractively as well as doing justice to the adult actors.
The Lighting Design by EJ Reynolds and Sound Design by Felix Hass nicely complement the story, set and the actors.
A special note: One of the actors, Emily Kranking, has a disability according to the program. The best part of her performance and a tribute to Gardner’s direction is I barely noticed. She blended in with all those equally talented individuals. I only wanted to make this note, because it is mentioned in the program, and she is active in the art of film starring and created by folks with disabilities (“Ready to Ride” – a musical and “Saylor and Serena” a short film for Easterseal’s in which she wrote, acted and performed).
Travel down to the Greenbelt Arts Center this holiday season and catch “The Phantom Tollbooth” and follow Milo on his road to adventure. You won’t even need an Easy Pass to get there.
Running Time: One hour and 30 minutes with an intermission.
“The Phantom Tollbooth” will play through December 15, 2019. Friday night times are 8 PM and Saturdays and Sundays at 2 PM (matinee). The Greenbelt Arts Center is located at 123 Centerway, Greenbelt MD 20770. Their phone number is 301-441-8770. For information please go to their website. Tickets are available online.
Note: See the Maryland Theatre Guide interview with director, Jon Gardner.