24th Street Theatre is all about community, reaching out to help others and providing a chance to see a high quality, thought engaging production to those who may not normally have that opportunity. They want to reach anyone and everyone they can but this season their main focus is the children. With their new LAb24, 24th Street Theatre is working on touching young audiences and introducing them with theatre that will teach them, inspire them and make them think. This is not your typical children’s theatre, it is a conversation starter for both minds of young and old. They want to approach subjects that can sometimes be hard to discuss and they are doing just that with their current production Walking the Tightrope. Written as a lyric poem by English playwright Mike Kenny, there were no stage directions of any kind when 24th Street first looked at this production, however with the superb direction by Debbie Devine, they have crossed that hurdle elegantly and perhaps even perfectly.
Walking the Tightrope is the story of Esme (Paige Lindsey White), a little girl who visits her Granddad Stan (Mark Bramhall) and Nana every year at the end of Summer. This year however, Nana is nowhere to be found. This story deals not only with the mountainous task of explaining death to a child but also how one must go on after the loss of someone they have spent most of their life with. Granddad Stan tires of Esme’s questioning and yet he cannot tell her the truth, so he tells her that Nana has joined the circus, fulfilling a lifelong dream of hers to be a tightrope walker.
This story is beautifully told in every aspect. Keith Mitchell has designed the set poignantly, by draping a circus tent around the set of Granddad’s house. It is simple yet at the same time it helps to tell the story, by having that fantasy of the circus always looming over the characters. The circus theme is played out even more with the onset music provided by Michael Redfield, who provides an exquisite background soundtrack from an upright piano on the side of the stage.
Adding to the production’s powerful presentation is Devine’s brilliant idea of having Nana’s memory always looming in the background as a silent, melancholy clown, played to heartbreaking perfection by Tony Duran. Duran’s character walks quietly around the stage never seen by the other characters. Watching over them as they go through the same motions they always did every year. Helping to point out where things were that only Nana had known, he is the spirit of Nana and it is tragic and yet beautiful at the same time. This play would not be as moving as it is if White’s performance as the young Esme wasn’t as convincing as it is. Though an adult herself, she embodies the mindset and mannerisms of a little girl and it never once bothers you that she is well beyond the young years that Esma is supposed to be. Your heart breaks with hers as she ventures through her holiday without Nana and her interaction with Granddad are sweet and yet torturous. Bramhall’s Granddad is lost and heartbroken at the loss of his lifelong partner. The way he muddles through everyday forced to remember that Nana is gone with Esme’s numerous questions, makes it feel real and taps into every fear we all have about death and losing those closest to us. When Esme finds Nana’s glasses in the couch, it is everything you can do not jump up and hug Bramhall forgetting almost all together that you are watching a work of fiction.
Fiction it may be, but this story is one we can all relate to. We all have to deal with death and by bringing in the idea of the circus Kenny and 24th Street are making it accessible to children. They want to start a conversation. So if you think this is a topic your child needs to start learning about, then this is the prefect conversation starter. If you don’t have children or do not want to bring them then still go see it. Walking the Tightrope is a phenomenal piece of theatre, and by the fact that there was not a dry eye in the house when I saw it, I am not the only one who thinks so.