In the ongoing crusade for children's hearts and minds, director Whit MacLaughlin annually pits the gentle, human world of theater against the armies of the contemporary: the violent, loud, virtual world of technological avatars and the plastic, garish, materialistic world of Barbie. This year he chose a play based on an old-fashioned and very English series of books, "The Borrowers," written by Mary Norton and adapted for the stage by Charles Way.
The Borrowers are tiny people-like creatures who live under the floorboards or behind the cupboards; they "borrow" what they need to make a respectable home - a spool of thread upended serves as a dining table, a matchbox holds precious diary pages. When people stomp around above, dust rains down.
The Clocks are a small family, named for the grandfather clock: mother Homily (Catharine K. Slusar - as remarkably good in this mild role as she was in her recent fierce role in Iron at Theatre Exile), father Pod (Scott Boulware) and their daughter Arrietty (Bi Jean Ngo) who is 13 - "a difficult age." She longs for freedom, space, independence. And a boy or two wouldn't hurt.
When a sickly human boy (Delante G. Keys) arrives in the big house, under the care of mean Mrs. Driver (Jo Twiss), he discovers the Borrowers, and he and Arrietty become friends - until mean Mrs. Driver drives the family out into the dangerous wide world.
Arrietty is overjoyed to be out in the sunshine and fresh air. When a huge wasp attacks (Aaron Cromie designed the puppets), she is rescued by a Borrower boy called Dreadful Spiller (the beyond-adorable Steve Pacek).
Well, what with sleeping in old boots and hiding in gypsy caravans and finding long-lost relatives, it's one adventure after another, and it is to the production's credit (and MacLaughlin's direction) that this too-talky show keeps moving. There is sufficient cheering and shrieking from the kids in the audience to indicate that they are having a fine time, although I doubt that the moral of the story (about growing up and living a life separate from your parents and their expectations) is accessible to little children.
I could wish the proportions were less confusing: the puppets who are surrogates for the Borrowers should be littler, and if the boot is so big, why is the book so small? The set design (Lewis Folden) is both sweet and clever, providing shocking attacks from blackbirds and screwdrivers, and a nifty use of shadows. And any backdrop (the face of the grandfather clock) that shows a map of the world and reads "L'ancien monde et le nouveau en deux hemispheres" with a pendulum swinging to and fro, clearly has something for the parents to enjoy, too. Time passes quickly (as any parent knows) - although two hours, with a question-and-answer period following, seems rather a lot.