SALT LAKE CITY — As we walked into the intimate setting of the Childrens’ Theatre, my guest and I were greeted by the somewhat bare setting of the stage. The setting was intimate, and provided the audience a secure and casual experience. Painted a cheery blue, and dressed with only two boxes and a stuffed animal, we were both unsure as to what to expect from the production. The subject matter seemed too serious for a children’s play, and I eagerly anticipated the weighty production.
Writer/Director/Producer/Actor Jana Lynne Cox immediately came onstage and introduced herself, and explained the story to us. It is the (fictionalized) true story of her own experiences with her twin sister, who was diagnosed with an Arachnoid Cyst on her brain, leaving the left side of her body damaged and weak. Jana explained that she wrote the play when she was 18. Her sister also died at the age of 18, after being hit by a car. The story details the challenges she encounters as she struggles to understand her own relationship with her disabled sister as well as coming to grips with her own set of prejudices – including her relationship with her mother, father and her classmates.
The twin sisters, played at two separate ages, are Karen (played by Lucy Holmgren) and Erin (played by Sarah Cassel) – accompanied by Young Karen (Gracie Holmgren) and Young Erin (Ashtyn Zwahlen). The cast is rounded out by Mom and Dad (Jana Lynne Cox and Matthew Windham, respectively) and an amazing ensemble of young actors and actresses. The young star, Lucy Holmgren, took the character by the horns. She was confident and sure of every move she made and when she was onstage alone, there was no doubt that she was comfortable with the responsibility of driving the story. Her stage presence rivaled many seasoned actors. Sarah Cassel didn’t have nearly enough time onstage. I wished I could have seen her work more. Sarah absolutely held her own when it came to the physical challenges she portrayed. She limped, slouched and had a seizure onstage and at no time, did she “forget” or “drop” these characteristics. One of our first scenes shows Erin (Cassel) being pushed and tormented by her classmates. This scene was abrupt and touching, and drew a sense of compassion immediately. The dynamic between the two main actresses and the school yard children was exceptional.
Technically, the show wasn’t perfect. The sound had some issues, and the wrong music was cued on multiple occasions. Some costume pieces failed to stay in place, and there were also some missed entrances. All things that are typical in ANY production. There were a few weak songs, and some missed harmonies. The duet between the mother and father seemed completely superfluous. It told us everything we already knew, and didn’t progress the story at all. The young actors all handled the mishaps with grace – a grace that many adult actors can’t feign. I strongly compliment each of these young professionals on their ability to keep the play going, despite the tiny annoyances that occur in any live theatre performance. My main critique would be to the writer. The show was heavy, almost too heavy to watch for 60 minutes straight. There was only one moment of brevity in the entire performance. I would encourage the author to find more ways to lighten our mood, so the audience doesn’t feel too “burdened” by the message.
By the end of the play, many of the adults in the audience were in tears, and at curtain call the cast received a well-deserved standing ovation. I felt I may have a hard time reviewing a childrens production, but when it came down to it, I had no problem comparing it to any adult production. Young actors can act as a blank palette and with the correct training, can be molded into superb actors. “Dream Child” runs 60 minutes with no intermission.