Carl Swanson, in a tweet, described The Thing as a “palate cleanser.” (Click here for his review of that show, and here for mine.) The same could be said of Milly and Tillie, a light and fanciful—but rich and accomplished—piece now on stage at Open Eye Theatre.
Director Jason Ballweber happened to sit behind me at Thursday night’s performance, and he explained that Susan Haas and Michael Sommers, co-directors of Open Eye Figure Theatre, wanted to create a show to inhabit the theater while the company took its annual driveway tour on the road. They brought in actresses Liz Schachterle and Elise Langer, then Ballweber, to work on what became Milly and Tillie, a free show appropriate for all ages.
|milly and tillie, presented through august 7 at open eye theatre. admission free, donations welcome. for information, see openeyetheatre.org|
Milly and Tillie—which was collaboratively created and credits no individual writer—has a plot fit for the simplest of picture books: Milly (Schachterle) and Tillie (Langer) go on a picnic. (Spoiler alert!) It rains. They come home. The end. Like a good picture book, the show is bursting with life and invention.
Cavorting about Eric Van Wyk’s eye-popping set—which looks simple, but hides surprises—Schachterle and Langer make jokes, make faces, make ice cream, and in short make the most of any opportunity to amuse and delight. Milly and Tillie is thick with illusions that are simple enough for children to understand the mechanics of but executed so smoothly that the illusions work anyway. In its short running time (under an hour), the play features two showcases for the creators’ inventiveness: an interlude in which Schachterle and Langer go on their picnic, with their silent adventures glimpsed through a window in the back of the set, and a concluding display of multicolored shadow puppetry.
As a director, Ballweber is good at giving his actors the room and encouragement to display endearing idiosyncrasies, and though the childlike Milly and Tillie are both loud and broad, they’re hard not to fall in love with. Little kids are fun, but they’re also intense, and Schachterle and Langer get that. The kids in the audience on Thursday responded audibly, and voted with their feet: Thursday night’s show was the fifth performance of Milly and Tillie, and the production’s majordomo Zoe Sommers Haas recognized many returning young faces as she served post-show ice cream. Indicating a group of neighborhood kids, she said, “I think they’ve missed maybe one show.”