THE YELLOW BOATby David Saar
Artes de la Rosa Cultural Center for the Arts
Directed/Produced by Adam Adolfo
Technical Director – Bradley Grey
Costumes and Sound – Adam Adolfo
Stage Manager – Lorens Portalatin
Jake Harris – Father/Blue
Rickie Jones – Purple
Caden Large – Benjamin/Yellow
Jessica LaVilla – Joy/White
Mara Retana – Eddy/Green
Durant Searcy – Pink
Lindsey Villari – Orange
Laura L. Watson – Mother/Red
Reviewed Performance: 4/13/2014
Reviewed by Joel Taylor, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Written by David Saar, The Yellow Boat tells the touching story of David’s young son Benjamin who was born in 1979 with congenital hemophilia and died in 1987 of AIDS related complications. Through his writing, Saar takes the audience on a journey across a sea of emotion as he shares a celebration of living through the eyes and narration of his son. Eight-year-old Benjamin is the narrator for most of the story, sharing with the audience his thoughts, feelings and his talented artwork as he experiences the normal experiences of childhood and the special challenges of living with hemophilia and his eventual contraction of AIDS, at a time when AIDS was believed to be a death sentence. With his active imagination and generally positive outlook on life, Benjamin transforms his emotional and physical pain into colorful drawings and paintings that help him cope with life and inspire others.
The audience for the reviewed performance included middle school children through senior citizens, people of various ethnic cultures and economic backgrounds. Prior to the opening, the audience is treated to an eclectic mix of preshow songs that initially seem to have nothing in common. The songs are a wide variety of artists, genres and styles that include “Purple Rain” and “Mellow Yellow”. It was not until several songs had passed had I figure out the creative and clever theme Adolfo uses in his choice of songs.
This show is a departure from more intricately-designed and built sets that I have often seen on this stage in the past. Unlike previous set designs, often with multiple levels and action on and off stage in multiple locations, Adolfo designed a set for THE YELLOW BOAT that is as simple as it is colorful. Consisting of five pylons covered to look like giant crayons of green, blue, purple, red, and yellow, and a few brightly colored platforms strategically placed around the stage, it makes for a color-filled stage in which to easily use and move around while keeping the central focus of the story on the young boy.
Adolfo also makes good use of lighting, a simple and colorful costume design, effective blocking and a combination of actors that, for the most part, work well individually and together as an ensemble. In order to tell the story in ways that connect the audience and the story being told on stage, Adolfo cast the show using talented, local area students from the Artes de la Rosa Youth classes and surrounding metro area as well as adult actors.
Costuming for the characters are contemporary - white combined with solid blue, red, purple, pink, green or orange shirts, slacks or shoes, sometimes the entire wardrobe depending on the involvement of the character. The lighting is effectively emphasized by color washes of reds, blues and greens on the back cyc Benjamin is performed exceptionally well by Caden Large. He is a young actor that handles the complexities of this role with seeming ease. In early scenes, portraying a very young child that insists on intruding on his parent’s private tme for a glass of water, a story, another hug, Large uses a good mixture of playful petulance and lovable yet annoying persistence to usually get his way. When Benjamin is excluded and ostracized by other children and adults, Large believably shares with the audience the bewilderment, confusion and disappointment of a child. In scenes with Jake Harris as Father, there is such a natural ease and timing between the two that the father-son relationship seems genuine.
Benjamin’s parents are played by Jake Harris as Father/Blue and Laura L. Watson as Mother/Red.
Harris, as father shows characteristics that are consistent and believable as a caring loving father that is balancing the needs of his child, with the needs of the needs of the mother and the lack of complete answers from the doctors. In the early scenes, when Benjamin is a baby, Harris presents a character that is the stereotypical father that acts as if the mother is over reacting when the baby is not feeling well. Though, as Benjamin grows into a young child, there is much more of a connection between the characters of Father and Benjamin. While his scenes with Large as Benjamin appear relaxed and genuine, the same is not always true of his emotional connection with Watson as mother, particularly in the scenes that call for physical closeness.
Laura L. Watson is technically sound in her roles as Mother/Red. Watson most of the time, has the right physical gestures, tone of voice and interest, when interacting with Large as Benjamin. When Watson as Mother is alone on stage with Large as Benjamin , the protective, hovering mother characteristics seem real. However, the romantic scenes between Watson and Harris as Mother and Father lack genuine attraction that causes a lack of believability in those scenes.
Rickie Jones as Purple, Mara Retana as Eddy/Green, Durant Searcy as Pink and Lindsey Villari as Orange combine as an ensemble to play the roles of the various doctors, teachers and little children that Benjamin interacts with throughout the story.
Jessica LaVilla performs the characters Joy/White with a consistently high level of energy that makes both characters engaging and fun to watch as she circled Benjamin, blowing whistles to get his attention, playfully, verbally sparring with him as he tried to get Joy to leave his hospital room and she found ways to stay in the room without him knowing. The audience laughs when Joy trips over a backpack when talking to Father and Mother. As well as when she obviously dumps markers on the floor of Benjamin’s hospital room in an effort to get him to react. As White, LaVilla has few lines, though they are delivered with perfect timing and the right amount of attitude. As Joy, the Child Wellness Specialist working with Benjamin while in the hospital, LaVilla is an absolute delight to watch as she interacts with Benjamin. She infuses Joy with a playful persistence and obvious caring that connects her to Benjamin. Joy tries to get Benjamin to overcome his depression and connect to life and LaVilla playfully gets within inches of Benjamin’s face using a variety of whistles to get his attention. The easily understood non-verbal communication she uses to convey she will not give up on Benjamin and the energy and genuineness Lavilla give to Joy makes her an absolute joy to watch.
Each evening before going to bed, Benjamin would insist on reading the story of the three little boats. One boat is blue, one boat red and one yellow as the sun. Each of the boats sails far out to sea. The blue boat returns to the harbor, the red boat also sails home to harbor. But the yellow boat sails up to the sun. “I see red, I hear blue, I feel purple, I taste green, I choose yellow” are lines that Benjamin frequently, and with emphasis, repeats throughout the play. These lines stayed with me long after I left and made me think about what the lines meant to me.
Several examples of Benjamin’s artwork, along with the AIDS Memorial Quilt, are currently on loan to Artes de la Rosa and are on display in the art gallery of the Cultural Center for the Arts and should be viewed when going to see this play. The Yellow Boat is a short one-act with just the right amount of time to enjoy a thought-provoking story about a young boy that lived and shared his life with those around him.
Artes de la Rosa
Rose Marine Theater
1440 N. Main Street
Ft Worth, Texas, 76164
Runs through April 27th, 2014
Friday and Saturday at 8:00 pm, and Sunday at 3:00 pm
General admission tickets are $15.00 and $11.00 for students, seniors and military. A service fee is charged online.
For information, go to http://www.artesdelarosa.org or call the box office at 817-624-8333.