The Purdue University Fort Wayne Department of Theatre production of A Year with Frog and Toad serves as a departmental foray into children’s theatre, and it’s an interesting one.
The well-loved series of children’s books by Arnold Lobel, telling about the everyday adventures of two hopping friends, translates well to the Williams Theater stage in an adaptation by brothers Willie and Robert Reale and directed by department chair Bev Redman.
We meet the pair as they awaken from hibernation and excitedly prepare for another year and see them and their woodland friends through the four seasons. They swim. They rake leaves. They sled.
A friend who saw the dress rehearsal told me that it would probably appeal most to children. He was right; however, I certainly didn’t fail to enjoy it. That’s probably because of watching and hearing gleeful children in the audience react to what was happening on the stage.
The cast, which consists entirely of students, is clearly having a good time trying out what is likely a new kind of play for most. Reactions here are over the top and often exaggerated. A smile is huge. A grimace is a total grimace. This experience is obviously one they all relish.
Daniel Moser, seen as Romeo last year, makes a sweet and jubilant Frog. Vince Rainelli, who is always a delight to watch, plays the more pessimistic Toad with just the right mix of emotions.
The remainder of the cast, consisting of four other actors who assume a variety of roles including birds, a mouse, a snail, a pair of moles, and a Large and Terrible Frog, are also quite good.
Freshman Jesse Harris is a hoot as mail-delivering Snail, who is, unsurprisingly, an exceptionally slow mail carrier. When he finally manages to deliver a letter from Frog to Toad, his level of excitement, as well as that of the audience, is ridiculously high.
“Cookies,” celebrating the gluttony many of us feel when we have pans of cookies in front of us, was an audience favorite. A close second would have to be “The Kite,” which sees birds taunting Frog and Toad as they try to get their kite off the ground.
The set makes it feel as if we are all sitting at the edge of a pond that gives us glimpses into the cozy houses of both Frog and Toad.
I encourage anyone, with or without a child though preferably with, to see this little bit of affirmation about the importance of having a best friend with whom to share life’s delights and challenges.