“Upstairs,” warns wise old Pod Clock, “is a very dangerous place.”
Pod should know. He’s a “Borrower,” one of a possible vanishing breed of little people – I mean really little, 4 to 6 inches tall or so – who live under kitchen floorboards and walls in British country houses and the like. Pod lives in one such place with his wife, Homily, and his inquisitive tween daughter, Arrietty. It’s a good life. No sunshine, though. No summer breezes or rain. Confined, cozy, stuffy, dusty but, well, good.
“The Borrowers,” Britisher Mary Norton’s successful 1952 children’s fantasy novel, has been adapted by Charles Way for the stage. Buffalo’s award-winning Theater of Youth has just opened a short run of the story about the Clocks, the “human beans” upstairs, a crisis leading to the dangers of the world outside for the wee ones, who are attacked by a giant crow and an outsized bee and are reduced to finding a home in a discarded boot. They do meet a strange fellow Borrower, the young and resourceful Spiller. And Arrietty revels when she sees a sunrise, hears thunder and chases a butterfly. Ultimately, there is a happy reunion with long-lost relatives, one of whom, according to family lore, was thought to have been eaten as a snack by a cat years ago.
Sweet Arrietty causes the great unrest by convincing Pod and Homily that she’s old enough to go on a “borrowing” foray upstairs for supplies: doll furniture, toy dishes, sugar and food crumbs, bits of cloth. On her first trip, Arrietty is spotted by a young, regulation-sized lad temporarily living in the old house while recuperating from illness. Instead of hurting the girl or sounding the alarm to his mean caretaker, the take-no-prisoners Mrs. Driver, The Boy befriends Arrietty and her family and helps them give down under a makeover. But, the martinet Driver discovers the caper and smokes out the intruders. Pod packs up the family but, ever philosophical, he sighs, “What is, is.”
“The Borrowers” is a clever mix of action, love and loss, family and some fright. TOY’s audiences know an interesting story when they see and hear one and except for some talky moments here and there, causing a few cases of the fidgets, they were mostly rapt at a recent matinee. Director Meg Quinn’s technical crew – the ingenious set designer Kenneth Shaw, sound and music creator Chet Popiolkowski, lighting designer John Rickus, puppeteer Adam Kreutinger – deserve high honors for their wizardry. It even snowed once. Seems that there is no challenge too large for this inventive team.
This is another fine TOY cast, one that includes several of its growing repertory company: Petite Arin Lee Dandes excels once more as the charming truth-seeker Arrietty and Marc-Jon Filippone and Loraine O’Donnell remind us how good they are in dramatic roles.
The trio is joined by the more than able Annette Daniels-Taylor, whose comeuppance is cheered wildly by the young TOY audience, champions of right. Also along are Lee Becker and Jacob Kahn, as wild Spiller. Director Quinn again works her magic.
And “The Borrowers” is magical, too, come to think of it. As Pod says, “What is, is.”heater Review
Three and a half stars (Out of four)
Presented by Theatre of Youth through March 24 in the Allendale Theatre, 203 Allen St. Tickets are $24-$26. Call 884-4400 or visit www.theatreofyouth.org.