I’ve liked Hicks’ painting, The Peaceable Kingdom (or at least the one of his many Peaceable Kingdoms I knew) since I was a child, combining as it does the pleasures of primitive art with the pleasures of idealistic politics. (Religious symbolism had not yet entered my consciousness, so I was unaware of the Bible verses: “The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the young lion and fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.”).
Mary Tuomanen, political activist, actor and prolific playwright (the recent Marcus/Emma and Hello! Sadness!) wrote this extraordinary new play, PEACEABLE KINGDOM, about an imaginary community of animals and native American tribes. William Penn (Alexandra King) arrives and falls in love with the paradisial world and with Chief Tamanend (Carla-Rae). It is ruled over by a lion (Cathy Simpson) who sits on a throne and looks sad. Why the lion is sad will be revealed, making us sad, too.
The play asks the question: is a peaceful world possible?
The Chief asks the question: What kind of idiot puts herbivores and carnivores together?
The leopard (Chris Davis) asks the question: how can I remain a member of a community if I am a predator by nature?
The deer (Daniel Park) asks the question: if time is circular, are we doomed to repeat ourselves?
The lamb (Eliana Fabiyi) asks the question: if time is linear can we change and improve?
The gray squirrel (John Jarboe) asks the question: if they cut down the forests for farms, how do we live?
The red squirrel (Thomas Choinacky) asks the question: if I am tolerant of an invasive species, can I survive?
Another lamb (Stephanie N. Walters) asks the question: how could enjoying life be blameworthy?
The entire cast is delightful, managing both heady ideas and comic presentation, capturing the essence of each animal—I was particularly enchanted by both Stephanie N. Walters’s frolicksome lamb and Chris Davis’s conflicted leopard). The squirrels, charming as they are, feature in the one repetitious section of the script that seems to need some trimming.
All this takes place under Rebecca Wright’s remarkable direction as she navigates the deep waters of philosophy and the shallow waters of adults wearing animal costumes (both goofy and stunning) designed by Rebecca Kanach. Stir into this already fabulous mix, a fine chorus of singing trees under the direction of Justin Yoder. Tuomanen has chosen the lovely music of Randall Thompson to create the melodic equivalent of a spiritual glow over all. If only….
[Orbiter 3 at Christ Church Neighborhood Playhouse, 20 North American Streer] May 10-28, 2017; orbiter3.org