In the study of English literature, a “bildungsroman” is defined as “a novel dealing with one person’s formative years or spiritual education,” and examples of such works include classics like Jane Eyre and David Copperfield. Looking at a character’s maturation and coming of age provides a rich backdrop to a narrative, allowing readers to examine a character through the series of experiences they undertake as the way they grow into themselves over the course of a story.
And yes, typically these stories revolve around people. But the current all for One production of The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane is an excellent example of a bildungsroman… for a toy rabbit. It’s that twist that makes the play so intriguing.
Coming in at a crisp 80 minutes — with no intermission that would stop the perfect flow of the story — Edward Tulane is the improbable tale of a toy rabbit who, through a series of mishaps and heartbreaking twists of fate, passes through the lives of many who are each dealing with their own set of challenges.
The heart of the story means that the audience quickly invests in this inanimate object, imbuing a character and meaning that would seem unlikely if not handled so deftly.
The cast is truly top notch, with each actor — Kira Downey, Mitch Harper, Lorraine Knox, Stacey Kuster, and Michael Wilhelm — taking on multiple characters in a story that spans many years and a series of spiritual and physical challenges.
Kuster is particularly deft in her portrayals, spanning everything from a loving child to a lonely mother with ease. Downey provides a dignity that serves the story well, particularly in a scene where she shares a captivating story with her grandchild. Wilhelm, a noted actor and playwright with all for One over the years, is heartwarming and captivating in his roles while Knox seamlessly transitions from storyteller, providing a narrative to the story as it unfolds, and a variety of characters along the way.
Perhaps most surprising is Harper — and yes, this is the same Mitch Harper who has served on Fort Wayne’s City Council and was a mayoral candidate in 2015 — who provides a voice for Edward Tulane, a toy rabbit who begins the story as a vain and self-absorbed “child” and grows into a compassionate and loving creature.
It is through his easy narration and gentle voice that we fully experience the full transformation of Edward through his many incarnations.
The journey isn’t easy, as the journey of life seldom is, and he finds himself burned by the experience of ultimately loving and caring for those around him. But to see Edward fully embrace the joys and sorrows around him is a revelation, and it is one to be enjoyed thoroughly.
Director Lauren Nichols positions the story in a theater-in-the-round environment, making the most of what their ArtsLab home provides so well. The intimacy of the setting coupled with the poignancy of the story is perfectly staged, and families would do well to learn the lessons provided by The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. Expect to shed a tear or two along the way.