by Jillian Carter
I must confess that I was not particularly looking forward to making the trip to Beatrice to see The Last Ticket Out of Thistleberry Thicket. I know, I know, I’m a grinch, but most people don’t go out of their way to see children’s theatre if they don’t have a child in the cast! I was prepared not to enjoy myself.
Boy, was I wrong!
Tyler Rinne’s world premiere of this, his sixth play, is better than it has any right to be. The description given out by Beatrice Community Players Facebook page is: “When a mysterious postcard blows into Thicket, the woodland creatures and garden sprites that live there are thrown into a tizzy! Will young Emeline take this as her cue to start her own adventure, or will she remain in the garden like everyone else?” While this is the overall plot, there is so much more to this deceivingly subtle play. The characters (and the audience) learn lessons about the gray area between right and wrong and about questioning the world around you. Curtis J. Magpie (played with aplomb by Nolan Marlatt) has a beautiful line where he asks if things are really how they’re supposed to be or if “however they are, that’s how we suppose they’re supposed to be?” The way Rinne is able to incorporate such important life lessons into a lark about animals and garden sprites, without shoving them down our throats, is close to genius.
The play is part of the Community Players’ Acting Up program, which allows Beatrice students in grades 5-8 to participate in theatre after school on their early release days. (Beatrice has early release every Wednesday, and the middle school is right across the alley from the theatre!) Based on the quality of the production, these kiddos are getting an excellent education in theatre at a young age. Don’t ask me how they can do it, with the super-cheap-by-Lincoln-standards prices they charge!
With a cast of 33, there are quite a few standout performances. Emmy Hoefer (Emeline) ably leads the cast, but she comes alive when allowed to really let go, as when she fakes choking to death or does a hilarious imitation of her father. Ashton Hofeling-Hyberger (Reva Hedgehog) could give lessons to some adult actors on how to stay in character every moment; she was magnificent. Makenna Blum (Ofelia Fruits-Pickle) is a perfectly cast antagonist; I wouldn’t mess with her! Four of the comedic ensemble players also caught my reviewer’s eye: Callen Behrends (Barty Batwing) embodied comical nervous energy, while Bryson Bates, David Maurstad, and Jude Tomlinson (The Thistleberry Thicket One-Man Cricket Band, Little Tobias Turtle, and Shermy Snail, respectively) were able to milk more laughs from the receptive audience than I thought possible.
The set and costumes are both darling and effective, transporting the audience into a woodland grove with the use of gobos to create the shadows of tree branches and minimal animal costumes to suggest the animals’ features without overshadowing the actors’ performances. For example, there is a whole group of young ladies in frocks, and the only nod to their animal characteristics are subtle face paint and ears. I, and the couple behind me, had a great time trying to figure out which animals some of the characters were.
The script itself had everything I look for in a good play. The protagonist is complex, and while she is a sympathetic hero, Emeline has her flaws, including being more than a little self-centered at times. The plot is straightforward and relatable, but the characters’ motives and feelings are complex. One of the boldest choices Rinne makes is to have his narrator (the aforementioned Curtis J. Magpie) become a character in the action in the second act. It worked, and pushed some boundaries of theatre in a welcome way. As an added bonus, the play is full of animal puns that will make you groan and laugh at the same time.
I can wholeheartedly and honestly recommend that you all buy tickets to this show, even if you don’t have a kiddo onstage. It was a delightful respite from real life, and we could all use a ticket into Thistleberry Thicket every now and then.
If you go: The Last Ticket Out of Thistleberry Thicket runs this weekend only, May 4 at 7:30 pm and May 5 at 2:00 pm. Beatrice Community Playhouse is located at 412 Ella Street in Beatrice. Tickets are available online and at the box office.
Jillian Carter is the managing editor of Appearing Locally, a playwright/actor/director, and a mother of four. She also writes a column about community theater for Lincoln Journal Star’s Ground Zero.
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