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Review: The 'Little Prince' is big on ideas

Aviator (David Oakes) and inquisitive Little Prince (Rhett Waller) contemplate the mysteries of the universe — and life — in the Phoenix Theatre's production of "The Little Prince," which continues tonight and Sunday. (photo by Rob Meyer)

Phoenix Theatre’s production of “The Little Prince” appears simple at first glance.

The show opens with little more than some desert dunes, a glowing backdrop and a star hanging off to one side. And most of the relatively small cast appears only briefly, never crowding the stage with actors.

But beyond its modest exterior lies a story of considerable emotional and intellectual depth. It’s a fitting approach considering the play’s theme, which shows that true love and beauty is found beneath the surface.

Adapted by playwrights Rick Cummins and John Scoullar from the famous book by French author Antoine de Saint-Exupery, “The Little Prince” is the tale of an aviator (David Oakes) who crash lands in the Sahara Desert. There he meets the inquisitive Little Prince (Rhett Waller), a traveler from another world with stories to tell.

There’s a sense of loneliness throughout the play, from the aviator — a disheartened artist whose only friend is his airplane — to a series of characters who live alone on their small worlds floating through space.

The tone comes across as somber, and made all the more melancholic by director Min MartinOakes’ decision to go with the non-musical version of the play.

There are moments of levity — including a group of unruly talking roses and a skittish fox played with great enthusiasm by Jacqueline West — but more often the story challenges viewers to look inward and relate it to their own lives.

Thankfully the upbeat performances by Oakes and Waller keep things from getting too dark. Despite the age difference between the two leads, both actors exhibit a similar childlike quality.

In one scene, the aviator takes offense to the notion that he is a grown-up, “one of them” he says with a pinch of disgust.

Although not overtly a holiday play, MartinOakes said she chose the story because it touches on the “generous, mindful spirit” commonly associated with the Christmas season and teaches people to live it each day.

The production is a success in this regard, due in no small part to Waller, whose genuine smile and youthful energy will remind audiences of what it was like to be a kid.

The play also moves quickly, coming in at a little over an hour. The pacing flirts on the edge of feeling rushed, but it should help younger viewers from getting too lost in the sometimes surreal plot.

Thoughtful, poignant and delivered with a strong heart, Phoenix Theatre’s “The Little Prince” is further proof of the lasting impact of this admired tale.

If you go …

Who: Phoenix Theatre

What:  “The Little Prince”

When: 7 p.m. tonight, 2 p.m. Sunday

Where: Sheldon Theatre

Cost: $20.50 adults, $12.50 students

More info: 651-388-8700 or

Michael Brun

Michael Brun joined RiverTown Multimedia at the Red Wing Republican Eagle in March 2013, covering county government, health and local events.  He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls journalism program.

(651) 301-7875