Chicago Tribune
November 19, 1998

Plays on Video Aimed at a Children's Audience
By Nancy Maes

Globalstage is based on a great idea: filming excellent theater productions from the United States and other countries and putting them out on video.

The problem, however, is that theater is performed in front of a live audience. Actors communicate with spectators who form a community. Obviously this dynamic sharing of feelings can't exist on film, but Globalstage has nevertheless managed to capture some of the intimacy and a good portion of the excitement of theater. Part of the success is due to the excellent way that the plays are filmed, with camera movements that enhance the emotions of the actors and underscore the action.

Globalstage has released four videos that are recommended for youngsters between 7 and 14. "Pinocchio" will certainly please younger children. It is performed by Stage One, a company in Louisville, Ky., that is more than 50 years old and has a well-established reputation for producing top-quality theater for young people. This production of the well-known Italian story, about a wooden puppet who has many misadventures before he learns about the value of honesty and love, is presented in the commedia dell'arte style with the players dressed in splendid black-and-white costumes and masks.

Another play in the series, which is also presented at Stage One, is not for the fainthearted. It is adapted from Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein" about the young medical student who tries to put together parts from cadavers to create a living creature. The setting and the costumes beautifully evoke the time period. Special props provide the gore the story requires. While Shelley's ending has been changed for the stage adaptation, it is nevertheless terrifying.

Globalstage traveled to Antwerp, Belgium to film a stage version of "Cyrano," about a brilliant man in love with the beautiful Roxane who considers himself too ugly to be loved in return. The play is performed by one actor playing Cyrano, another playing Rexene and a third portraying a number of characters. While the actors are Belgian, they perform in English with pronunciation that is closer to American than British. They appear dressed in ordinary clothes, on a stage that is nearly bare except for a few pieces of furniture that could have been bought at a thrift shop. They create their own sound effects using a melange of items. The poetry of the text and the actors' emotions shine through these bare, inventive essentials. Young people, who are going through a stage when they feel uncomfortable in their bodies and often fixate their love on someone unattainable, should have no trouble relating to the drama.

A fourth play in the series might not speak so well to young people. It is the stage adaptation of Thomas Hardy's "Far From the Madding Crowd," performed by England's Snap People's Theatre. It depicts the travails of a young woman who is a landowner, which is quite unusual for the time, and her attempt to choose between three suitors who are very different from each other. While the other videos on the Globalstage series run about 1 1/2 hours, this one is more than two hours long and counts heavily on dialogue to tell the story.

These Globalstage videos have an extra attraction. Not only do they give youngsters a chance to watch excellent theater, but they include interesting food for thought. Each one is introduced by Elizabeth McNamer. At first, with her clipped accent and penchant for black clothing she may seem an escapee from Masterpiece Theatre. But her enthusiasm soon becomes infectious.

The next video scheduled for release is "Playing From the Heart," performed by the Polka Theatre for Children of Wimbledon, England. This will be the world premiere of a play that focuses on the childhood of Evelyn Glennie, a percussionist who persisted in following a musical career in spite of her deafness and who has found world-wide acclaim.

Globalstage videos are available by mail order. Call 888-324-5623.