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REVIEW: Endearing Animals, Story in Biggest Little House (Children’s Theatre Company)

A mouse moves into The Biggest Little House in the Forest at the Children’s Theatre Company in Minneapolis. Pictured: Autumn Ness. Photo by Dan Norman. 

A joyful, immersive experience awaits children attending The Biggest Little House in the Forest, a Children’s Theatre Company’s original adapting the novel by Djemma Bider. The show features a libretto by Rosanna Staffa and music by Victor Zupanc.

I brought my two young grandchildren with me to see the show.  While approaching the entry to the Cargill Stage, children were encouraged to take off their shoes and slip into puppet socks  Theatre staff then gathered all the children in attendance and guided them into the theatre.  As the children found themselves sitting in the middle of a beautiful woods, a female storyteller sang a song, bubbles were blown, and feathers flew. Children make the sound of rain and jump out of their seats to dance.

Biggest Little House is technically a one-woman show, but the children in the audience did not notice.  To them, the coffee table-sized stage was full of delightful characters.  Bernice the Butterfly finds the little house abandoned in the woods, cleans it up, plants a garden, and makes herself at home.  She then invites Millie the mouse and Fred the frog to live in the house with her. 

Autumn Ness greets children before The Biggest Little House in the Forest. Photo by Dan Norman.

Technically speaking, the butterfly, mouse and frog are puppets, but without any special animating devices often found in puppetry.  Autumn Ness held the children spellbound simply by moving the stuffed characters around by hand, like a child would during imaginative play.                 

Eventually, a rooster and a rabbit joined this newfound family in the woods. When it began to rain, they suddenly heard a growl at the door…a bear who asked if he could come inside and get warm. This raises some hard questions: There’s hardly any room left in the little house for one more person, but should they let him in anyway?  What if he has nowhere else to go to get out of the rain? After a series of calamities, the bear helped the animals build a bigger, more beautiful house and everyone was invited to dance, so all ended well. 

Director Peter C. Brosius (winner of the 2013 Ivey Award for Best Director) devised The Biggest Little House in the Woods performance as part of its Early Childhood Initiative. Eric J. Van Wyk designed an immersive stage set, surrounding the audience with clusters of autumn colored foliage suggesting a deep woodland environment. The resulting performance is specifically designed for preschool children, being limited to 35 minutes.  However, sitting with many of the preschoolers, I saw brothers and sisters who were seven or eight years old joining in on the adventure. 

Autumn Ness (left) runs a 1-woman storytelling show with puppets in The Biggest Little House in the Forest. Photo by Dan Norman.

Autumn Ness and her CTC creative team showed the children in the audience that the simplest performance techniques can make a puppet show. My grandchildren probably have toys just like the animal characters on the stage, as well as the little house and all the props.  From what they have in their toy boxes, they, too, could put on a show in which their stuffed animals start a pillow fight or all their animal toys jump into a bubble bath. This is one of the show’s appealing aspects: Biggest Little House exemplifies for children the power of both creativity and love. When you use your imagination, there’s always room for more ideas; when you open your hearts to people, there is always room for one more. 

The Biggest Little House in the Forest plays at the Children’s Theatre Company in Minneapolis through March 10. 

Dan Reiva