Whether it’s a gigantic handmade tapestry of villagers in A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings or a larger-than-life digital image of Alice’s face in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, The PlayGround Theatre’s visually striking productions have become the trademark of a team that creates captivating performances for children – and the adults who schlep them.
The PlayGround Theatre’s latest creation, The Red Thread, is no exception. Fernando Calzadilla’s set, lighting, and costumes are so vibrant and vital to the story, it’s as if the design elements are characters. And Octavio Campos’ choreography adds to the fluidity of the movement on stage.
The Red Thread, written by Stephanie Ansin and Calzadilla (and directed by Ansin), tells the story of Ling Shih (Christina Jun), the youngest of three impoverished sisters. Their father, a weaver, portrayed by Jesús Quintero, needs only one red thread to complete his silk tapestry. However, frustrated with the family’s poverty, the eldest sister Yao Xue (Kate Shine) steals the tapestry in the middle of the night. Middle sister Mei Hua (Melissa Almaguer) tags along and they sell the masterpiece for food and clothing. Ling Shih, the youngest sister, must embark on an arduous journey to recover her father’s silk tapestry. As she tries to track down the tapestry which has been sold numerous times, she discovers secrets from her past which will ultimately propel her toward a new life.
The stage is made three dimensional by a series of intricately woven ropes that represent a bridge and later a mountain. Christina Jun climbs, swings, and hangs from them valiantly as the frightened but courageous Ling Shih. Venetian blinds serve as a subdued backdrop for the first half of the play, but later the blinds transform into a vivid picturesque landscape that mirrors the tapestry. The dramatic lighting, rope climbing, and stunning visuals create a magical almost cinematic landscape.
The Asian accents of Campos’ choreography are expressive not imitative, so it doesn’t feel gimmicky. Nine darkly clad Ninjas add an element of mystery and entertainment to the production as they leap, crouch, and run across the stage between scenes. Ingenuously, they also serve as effective stage hands.
Troy Davidson is exquisite as the mystic who helps Ling Shih uncover her inner strength and balance. Jun is a perfect fit for the role of Ling Shih. She possesses the agility and athleticism to do the more harrowing physical parts believably, but she is also an actress with a lot of character. Christian Chan is also charismatic as the Prince of Khotan. He and his demanding mother, the Queen of Khotan (Marjorie O’Neill-Butler) add humor to the play’s drama.
The Red Thread pulls together elements of adventure, drama, and humor to create a rich theatrical experience. The PlayGround Theatre is one of the few theaters in South Florida that consistently manages to engage, inform, and delight a multi-generational audience, but don’t take my word for it. I attended The Red Thread with my seven-year-old daughter and my stepsons who are 15 and 16. Miraculously, everyone was speechless for 90 minutes. The grade schooler didn’t fidget and the teenagers couldn’t come up with one sarcastic remark. Silence speaks volumes.
The Red Thread runs through May 27 at The Playground Theater, 9806 NE Second Ave., Miami Shores; For details on dates and times (including matinees), go to: http://www.theplaygroundtheatre.com.