The Lakewood Playhouse production of “The Velveteen Rabbit,” which runs through Nov. 4, is clearly geared toward children. Done in conjunction with the theater’s Lakewood Institute of Theater, the play is directed by Deborah L. Armstrong. The stage adaption (this one by Janet Allard) of Margery Williams’ 1922 children’s book tells the story of a stuffed rabbit who becomes the beloved, imaginary friend of an unnamed boy. The boy’s love and imagination imbue the stuffed rabbit with a quality of reality. The boy and the rabbit spend their days together on adventures and the boy needs the security of the rabbit as a sleeping companion.
The subtitle of the book is “How Toys Become Real.” The story is almost a philosophical meditation on love, imagination and the nature of reality. There is all manner of interesting notions like love being the cause of the rabbit’s getting physically worn out. The more the rabbit is used, the shabbier it becomes; yet the boy does not see the shabbiness because of his love for it. The other toys are perplexed by this contradiction.
While the play is geared toward children – the Skin Horse (Ed Jacobs), who narrates the story, seems to be channeling soft-spoken Mr. Rogers to the point of being difficult to hear at times – it ends up presenting interesting observations to the adults in the room.
The play struck home with me personally because I had a teddy bear, Party, who had an adventurous personality and shared my adventures in early childhood. The play also makes one ponder whether children in the digital age are getting enough freedom from electronic devices and pre-packaged imagination substitutes that they are fully exercising and developing their own imaginative abilities.
In addition to Jacobs as the Skin Horse, the only other adult members of the cast are Diane Johnson, who plays the Boy’s governess, and Tom O’Kelley as an ornery gardener. The rest of the cast consists mainly of youth brought up through Lakewood Playhouse’s various drama classes offered by the theater under the aegis of Lakewood Institute of Theater. The Boy is played by Emily Cohen and the Velveteen Rabbit is played by Nigel Kelly. Both succeed in portraying the special bond between a child and an especially beloved toy that is transformed from toy to family member or close friend.
Kate-Lynn Siemers, Austin Runion, Gunnar Ray, Tuppence Cooney, Clarence Williams, Parker Dean, Hannah Hadjes, Tiffany James and Trevor Stephens all make appearances as other toys and as wild rabbits.
Possibly because of my own childhood experience, I found this play to be both interesting and rather moving.
For more information, visit www.lakewoodplayhouse.org.