Jesse Aarons is something of an
outsider at his school in rural Virginia in 1977. He is a talented
artist, but the only person who appreciates his talent is his teacher,
Miss Edmonds. He has been practicing running all summer, hoping to win a
little respect as the fastest runner in fifth grade. Imagine his
humiliation when in the first race he is defeated by the new kid in
school, Leslie Burke, a girl.
But Jesse’s disappointment is soon
forgotten as he and Leslie, also an outsider, become great friends.
Leslie’s imagination leads to the creation of the Kingdom of Terabithia
in the nearby woods, and Jesse becomes its king. King Jesse and Queen
Leslie win the hearts of their imaginary subjects, fight a ferocious
battle with an invisible enemy, and find a place they can be themselves
and learn to love.
With a wonderful cast, a beautiful
set by Rich Kirlin, and a great story perfectly directed by Laura
Escobedo, the show lives up to the high standard set by FreeFall Stage,
which just closed its brilliant production of Shaw’s Pygmalion.
There are three adults in the cast: Jesse’s hard-working but grouchy
parents played beautifully by Deanne Eldridge and Matthew Rives, and
Madison Keim’s understanding teacher. Madison’s most memorable
contribution is her singing to her students Elton John’s 1970 hit, "Your
Song" (“How wonderful life is while you’re in the world”).
But the entire evening rests on the
shoulders of three wonderful young actors. Sean Stewart shines as Jesse,
and the beautiful and talented Tessa Tally wins everyone's heart as
Leslie. These two outstanding young actors were last seen as Charlie
Brown and Lucy Van Pelt in A Charlie Brown Christmas. Together
they make the audience believe in the magic land of Terabithia and the
unspoken love that can grow between two special children. Seven-year-old
Lilian Fisk just about steals the show as Jesse's tag-along little
sister, May Belle.
Cheyenne Keim also stands out as the
class mean girl, who, it turns out, has her own pain to bear. Chad
Eldridge as Jesse’s running rival is excellent in the mean boy part.
Mariah Embree is Jesse’s older sister Brenda, who seems full of herself.
The other school children, Emma Dees, Maizie Dees, and Emily Howell are
perfect as, well, school children.
The play was adapted for stage by
Katherine Paterson from her Newberry Award winning novel. Though the
novel is a classic of children’s literature, this play is certainly as
much for adults as it is for kids. In her director’s note, Laura
Escobedo makes clear the universality of the appeal of this story.
“There is still deep beauty that occurs in a lasting friendship that
changes you forever; there is risk of pain in love, but it is worth it;
you can be yourself, and there is more power in your imagination than
So if you have children who can appreciate a serious play
with wonderful child actors, children who can understand that not all
stories have happy endings, by all means bring them to this show. But if
you have no children to bring but love seeing an excellent play well
performed, don’t be put off by thinking this is a play for kids. It is a
play for all lovers of live theater, presented by Folsom’s gift to its
community, FreeFall Stage.