COUPLE OF WEEKS AGO, City Hall's Dilworth Park opened its ice rink. Friday, Penn's Landing plans to debut its frozen skate-ground. This morning, actors at Old City's Arden Theatre are scheduled to ice-skate onstage in the world-premiere production of "Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates."
Playwright Laura Eason adapted the circa-1865 children's classic - a story of a brave, obstacle-overcoming, canal-skating Dutch brother and sister, written by American author Mary Mapes Dodge. The play is officially part of the Arden Children's Theatre program. Eason, an accomplished television writer, stage director, actor and singer-songwriter, prefers to think of the production as "family theater," she said.
"It's not a show where you bring your kids and you can think about something else when you're there," she explained.
"Some other works for family audiences I've witnessed, the work can feel like something secondary, that it is not primary to the organization as reflected in resources or quality," Eason added, "The stories [in the Arden children's program] are accessible to kids, to a family audience, but there's nothing else in our creative process that feels any different from any other show. We bring our full arsenal of tools, sophisticated design . . . "
To Eason, who acted a few years back in the Arden's production of "Hard Times," Mapes Dodge's 19th-century tale "felt like a Dickens novel I had never read. The quality of these morally centered children who've had to endure incredibly difficult life circumstances, and, because of their hard work and optimism, their situation begins to turn around - those are powerful themes in the world at this moment."
As for more sophistication: Adults play all the roles, including siblings Hans and Gretel. Other themes include empathy, bravery, bullying and perseverance. As for the sets and such, windmills turn; live harp and violin play; and skating happens via a moving floor. (You didn't actually think there would be ice onstage, did you?)
"Brinker" has been in the works for some time. Arden co-founder Terry Nolen commissioned the Brooklyn-based Eason to create it about three years ago. But an offer to write for an up-and-coming Netflix drama intervened. Her other gig? Writing for "House of Cards." In Eason's best-known episode, Claire Underwood (played by Robin Wright), the wife of a murderous vice president, admits in a live TV interview that she's had an abortion. "House of Cards" is not exactly a family show.
Eason's also well-known for her play, now performed across the country, "Sex With Strangers." Also not family theater. She said that her 5-year-old daughter calls the Arden play "the one I can see."
She will see it, too, on Dec. 5, opening night. Until then, the show will be in previews.
Eason and Nolen agreed that "Brinker" is probably best for the over-age-6 crowd. Eason added she hopes that "at intermission, children [in the audience] will kick off their shoes and try to skate around the lobby."
Her greater hope is that shows like hers will become part of a larger movement. "I think we need deeper, richer stories for children," she said. "I feel lucky to have the opportunity to make one."
"Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates," Arden Theatre Co., 40 N. 2nd St., today-Jan. 31, showtimes vary, $18-$36, 215-922-1122, ardentheatre.org.