Hollywood Fringe 2019
With the aid of creative lighting and absolutely gorgeous visuals, The Journey of the Little Prince brings Saint-Exupéry’s classic novella to life, encouraging its audience to quiet their minds and return to a state of childlike wonder.
The Journey of the Little Prince attempts a very difficult task: to take a well-known and deeply well-loved tale to life on stage. For those of us who grew up reading the book, we already have our own version mapped out clearly in our minds, shaped by the author’s spare and endearing drawings. While it’s easy to imagine many versions that could have fallen short of The Little Prince of my own mind’s eye, Irina Kompa’s homage to Saint-Exupéry succeeds, precisely because she’s dreamt up a show that encourages the audience to fill in intentional blanks with their imagination.
To explain, Kompa came up with the idea of creating a “sensory experience” for this production while eating in a restaurant where there is absolutely no light. There is, in fact, some light in the show—it’s just not a traditional amount. Actors are often backlit, shadows abound, and what normally would create an endless headache in another production (“find your light!”) is intentional here. It’s an incredibly creative idea, and a wonderful choice to attempt this new kind of staging at the Fringe, where, unfortunately, we don’t see as many daring choices as I’d like to see.
While the Studio/Stage space is a bit of a trek from the main hub of Hollywood Fringe, it is an utterly perfect match for this piece: because of its somewhat isolated location and lack of Hollywood street noise, it’s one of the only venues that can actually achieve a real blackout in both sound and light. There was even something serene about escaping the boisterous social scene of Fringe crowds on Santa Monica, as if, in coming to the space, we are already embarking on our own journey into a different state of mind. Indeed, from the moment the house opens, the audience is welcomed into a dreamy twilight state, the stage dimly lit, with six planets placed upon it that almost seem to glow, and an utterly mesmerizing starscape twinkling in high definition on the enormous backdrop. It is already otherworldly, magical, and calm, before the show even begins.
With stunning visual design by Seb Brown, a compact cast of three, and a series of creative lighting choices, Kompa and her team bring The Journey of the Little Prince to life. Patricia Mizen and Transe Carter are excellent chameleons, playing characters both big and outlandish to small and subtle with equal proficiency. While I enjoyed all the roles, I was especially charmed by Carter’s Lamplighter, who captured his character’s absurdity with wonderful comedic physical precision. Mizen is hilarious as the Businessman who counts the stars but is equally charming and welcoming as she ushers us into the world they’re creating as Saint-Exupéry himself. Kompa plays the Prince, bringing to the role the same love and wonder she so clearly possesses for this story. She leaps around the stage from planet to planet as space zooms behind her, learning and questioning from each new character she encounters on the way. A less subtle performer might have been tempted to “play young,” but Kompa truly captures the Prince’s innocence and charm without falling into a cloying imitation of a child—as in the book, she speaks simply and clearly, and allows the emotions to come naturally when they do. It’s very clear that Kompa is one of the very few adults who actually remembers being a child—as she reminds us of through the play, “all adults were once children, but only a few of them remember it.” I was completely charmed by the cast, and there was something strangely poetic about Saint-Exupéry being played by a woman with an American dialect and the Prince being played by a woman with a Russian accent—even if accidental, it worked in favor of the storytelling, as it reinforced the feeling that the Prince really was from another world.
The show moves at a steady, lazy river pace—we drift along steadily, carried by the story, with darkened scenes allowing our imagination to fill the scene. Most of the scenes occur in silhouette, with the characters costumes only briefly seen in a moment of light to allow us to focus on the story and fill in to our heart’s content. The star-spangled expanse of space turns to total darkness once the Prince reaches Earth, where only shadow puppets fill the scenes.
It would be interesting to go even further with this idea of the sensory experience, perhaps finding a place to use total darkness, which would likely require a more inventive and involved sound design. (After all, it was inspired by a completely dark restaurant, which awakens our other senses.) I’d love to see how far they could go and how creative they could get in freeing us from our usual expectations for the theater—what else could be done without relying on sight? Kompa’s production begins to ask this question, and I’d love to see it go even further.
Overall, this was a delightful 45-minutes that allows the viewer a respite from the frenzied realities of adulthood (and Fringehood) and allows us to enter a wonderfully calm state of mind—I wouldn’t be surprised if my blood pressure dropped significantly. It takes the time to remind us simply of what is—and what is not—important. As adults, we are used to being told what is correct versus incorrect, and we are driven by the compulsion to move towards some impossible perfection. Rather than try to create some perfected theatrical version of Saint-Exupéry’s novella, Kompa has created a beautiful experiment that captures the ethos of his work in its very execution. It speaks in shades and shadows: instead of showing us what to think, it leaves space for us to instead turn our gaze quietly inward. In this way, The Journey of the Little Prince truly captures the spirit of Saint-Exupéry’s words: “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”