Review: A fantastical world and endless possibilities in wonderful ‘Tuck Everlasting’ at TheatreWorks Silicon Valley

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The Tuck Family (left to right: Eddie Grey, Kristine Reese, Travis Leland, Jonathan Rhys Williams) drink from an enchanted woodland spring in “Tuck Everlasting,” presented by TheatreWorks Silicon Valley at the Lucie Stern Theatre in Palo Alto through December 30. (Kevin Berne photo)

Little Winnie is like any young girl, delightfully ornery and innately curious. She drives her mother and grandmother crazy, boredom and monotony settling into her and her laconic little town.

As with any young girl on the cusp of her awakening, the limiting walls and picket fence of her family home are suffocating. What else is out there? There must be possibilities that exist beyond her slimy, green best friend, who only responds with “ribbit.”

But as is the case with a young girl finding the newness of the world, there is a handsome boy. He climbs trees with spry, youthful gusto, an intriguing gent of 17. Winnie is fascinated by him, curious about what he may offer. But she’s only 11, much too young to explore what this could look like.

Will he wait for her? For Winnie, it’s a compelling possibility. But for him, it may be his last chance at love, the chance to feel normal, to possess a warm embrace of someone he can live with. Not grow old with, but simply, to live.

Drink the water, Winnie. Drink.

What TheatreWorks Silicon Valley does with the idyllic setting in their production of “Tuck Everlasting” is so delightful and heartwarming, a top-rate cast and marvelous score by Chris Miller, with empathy-fueled lyrics by Nathan Miller. In the hands of director Robert Kelley, the production is properly grounded yet filled with wonderment, searing magical realism loaded with delightful yet heartbreaking possibilities.

The show is driven by its two lead performers as Winnie, rotated nightly by Natalie Schroeder and Katie Maupin. On my night of viewing, it was Maupin in the lead role, which I was quite excited about considering I featured her a year ago. It is this youthful intrigue that really fuels Winnie, who decides to run away from her setting in Treegap, New Hampshire.

The outside world is not just thrilling, but dangerous. What is safe is the soft spot she lands in, the home of the Tuck family, which is not in Treegap but somewhere on the outskirts. It was that first meeting with the 17-year-old Jesse (an appealing Eddie Grey) in the woods that challenged her complacency. But soon Jesse leads her to his family, which includes the devastated Miles (a tortured turn by Travis Leland, dad Angus (magnificently paternal Jonathan Rhys Williams) and mom Mae (heartbeat of the piece Kristine Reese).

Soon after, Winnie learns the secret of the water, the powers granting eternal life for any who dare to consume. It is appealing after all – eternal life, the inability to die despite the circumstance, and the power to climb trees at any age.

This comes at great cost and great envy for others. There is The Man in the Yellow Suit (a dastardly energetic Michael Gene Sullivan), a second-rate carnival barker, constantly plotting his next money-making scheme. It is he who threatens every norm in this society, until the Tucks have no choice but to confront him head on. The triangle of the danger is completed with Constable Joe (a delightfully straight performance by Colin Thomson) and his wacky partner (the zany David Crane).

As wonderful as the performers are, this being an absolute fantastic cast, this play rides on the coattails of Maupin and she delivers mightily. In the hands of a young talent who may play the moment with a performer’s bravado with the absence of organic truth, this is not that. Her trills are effortless, her stage presence palpable. Her reactions are built with a true sense of listening and discovering.

The unsung hero is a character not mentioned, and that is the set designed by Joe Ragey. His deep, green and lush trees protrude into the audience, with lots of levels which helps keep the action moving. It’s this all-encompassing nature of the set that both suffocates and sets free.

Kelley’s best work is saved for the end in the form of a silent denouement. It’s magnificent in the sense that we learn so much about how things end up for Winnie, with some breathtaking and heartbreaking surprises revealed. It’s how life works, with all its complicated and poignant beauty.

So often, we bemoan our age by stating things like, “Wow, I’m getting old.” And despite the longing so many have for their 20s and 30s, when bodies were full of energy and metabolism was still a thing, “Tuck Everlasting” is a reminder that aging is a blessing and not guaranteed. Seeing your offspring live through the years you’ve already lived through is nature’s magic. The limited time you have on earth is what gives you the urgency to make your mark before you leave.

Like the characters in the play, this delightful story is timeless.

WHAT TO KNOW IF YOU GO

TheatreWorks Silicon Valley presents “Tuck Everlasting”
Book by Claudia Shear and Tim Federle
Music by Chris Miller
Lyrics by Nathan Tysen
Adapted from Natalie Babbitt
Directed by Robert Kelley
The Word: A fantastical journey through the eyes of a young girl is loaded with magic, danger and wonderment. A tale of life and the roles each moment plays in our own journey.
Stars: 5 out of 5
Running time: Two hours, 15 minutes with a 15-minute intermission
Through Dec. 30th
Lucie Stern Theatre
1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto, CA
Tickets range from $40 – $100
For tickets, call (650) 463-1960 or visit www.theatreworks.org

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