Friday, January 30, 2015

The Timeless Charm of "Edward Tulane"

by Andy Knight

Kate DiCamillo, author of The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane

Kate DiCamillo
Author Kate DiCamillo was born in Philadelphia, Penn., and grew up in Florida. After moving to Minnesota in her 20s, her homesickness and the bitter winter helped inspire her first novel for young readers, Because of Winn-Dixie, published by Candlewick Press in 2000. The novel quickly became a bestseller and received a Newbery Honor.

DiCamillo’s next novel, The Tiger Rising, was published in 2001 and selected as a National Book Award finalist. Since then, DiCamillo has written picture books, early chapter books and novels—all of which have been praised by young readers, parents and critics. Two of her novels, The Tale of Despereaux and Flora & Ulysses, won the Newbery Medal (2004 and 2014, respectively); her early chapter-book. Bink and Gollie won the 2011 Theodor Seuss Geisel Award; and many of her books have been New York Times Best Sellers.

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane was first published in 2006. In an interview with the book’s publisher, Candlewick Press, DiCamillo discussed the inspiration behind the story: “A friend gave me a very elegant rabbit ‘doll’ (sorry, Edward) for Christmas a couple of years ago. Not long after receiving the rabbit, I had this very clear image of him underwater, on the bottom of the sea, minus all of his finery, lost and alone.”

The novel’s popularity earned it a spot on the New York Times Best Seller list, and the newspaper named it one of the Notable Children’s Books of 2006. Edward Tulane also won The Boston Globe’s Horn Book Award and Publishers Weekly named it the Best Book of the Year in children’s fiction (2006).

DiCamillo still lives in Minneapolis, where she faithfully writes two pages a day, five days a week. In addition to writing, the author is the 2014-15 National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature.
The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane begins in a house on Egypt Street in the mid-1920s. There, a young girl named Abilene Tulane receives a large china rabbit from her grandmother, Pellegrina, on her birthday. The rabbit is exceptionally well made and handsome, with ears and a tail made of real fur and an entire wardrobe of dapper outfits. Abilene loves the rabbit very much and names him Edward.

Edward, however, cares for no one but himself and doesn’t respond to Abilene’s declarations of love. Not that he could, anyhow, with his painted-on mouth. He passes the days thinking about his magnificent appearance and little else. Years go by, and Edward’s life of comfort stays the same.

Kate Poppen’s costume design for Edward (as Malone).
One day, Abilene, Edward and the Tulane family embark on a trip to England aboard a ship. Many of the passengers admire Edward, but when two young boys spot the china rabbit, they snatch him away and throw him around—actions that eventually send Edward overboard. He sinks to the bottom of the ocean, where he stays—alone with his thoughts—for quite some time.

A great storm brings Edward back to the surface and he is caught in a fisherman’s net. The fisherman, Lawrence, decides to bring Edward back to shore as a gift for his wife, Nellie.

Ann Sheffield’s set design for the Tulanes’ house on Egypt Street.
Nellie repairs Edward and names him Susanna—a terrible indignity in Edward’s mind, to be mistaken for a girl! Just as Edward settles in to his new life, however, Lawrence and Nellie’s arrogant daughter steals him, takes him to the town dump and throws him on the trash heap. Edward is, once again, left alone.

But Edward’s journey is far from over—for each time he’s lost, he’s also found. Years go by as the china rabbit travels across the American countryside, and along the way Edward meets a variety of characters, assumes a number of different identities and experiences both joy and heartbreak. As he’s whisked from adventure to adventure, Edward undergoes a great change: he learns how to love—perhaps the most miraculous thing of all.

Kate Poppen’s costume design for The Traveler.
In playwright Dwayne Hartford’s adaptation of Kate DiCamillo’s popular children’s novel, the china rabbit’s journey across 1930s America comes to life using imaginative storytelling and an ensemble of four actors who play a variety of characters. Director Casey Stangl—whom SCR audiences know from past Theatre for Young Audiences productions, most recently James and the Giant Peach and Anastasia Krupnik, as well as from SCR’s season productions (Venus in Fur)—was charmed by Hartford’s play after reading it.

“I love this adaptation,” says Stangl. “It’s very theatrical and transformative, with an actor voicing the thoughts of Edward and all the actors playing musical instruments.”

Although it’s not a musical, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane does use folk music throughout, performed live by the actors, as another way to tell the play’s story. The themes of love, loss and hope in the songs complement Edward’s tale, and the musical style evokes early 20th-century America. Yet, for many of the production’s younger audiences, these songs might be entirely new.

“I’m particularly looking forward to introducing these iconic American tunes to a new generation,” says Stangl.

Despite its historical setting, Edward Tulane’s story is a timeless one.

“We all project ourselves onto other people, and the play presents that in a clever and dynamic way that’s both fun and moving,” Stangl points out. Each character that Edward meets on his journey needs him for a different reason and each one helps the china rabbit comes to terms with the responsibility of love. At its heart, Edward Tulane is about learning to both love and be loved—a lesson that’s not only timeless, but also one for all ages.

To bring the production to life, Stangl assembled an imaginative creative team that includes Deborah Wicks La Puma (musical director), Ann Sheffield (scenic designer), Kate Poppen (costume designer), Karyn Lawrence (lighting designer) and Corinne Carillo (sound designer).

Edward Tulane’s talented cast includes Sylvie Mae Baldwin, Brad Culver, Nicholas Mongiardo-Cooper and Ann Noble. Read more about the cast here.

Learn more and buy tickets.

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