The Red Balloon

This revival of the 2008 hit is utterly original and transcendently human

Arts Review

The Red Balloon

Rollins Studio Theatre at the Long Center, 701 W. Riverside,

Through May 30

Running time: 1 hr.

Do you want to smile? To grin from ear to ear? Do you want to feel joy, and not just alone, but with others – a whole group of people, young and old? Do you want to be transported into

a magical world where no one speaks a word, but everything and everyone is known? Where a story is told so clearly it captures your imagination and makes you and everyone else a part of it?

Who wouldn't?

You can do all of this and more if you attend Tongue and Groove Theatre's production of The Red Balloon. Adapted freely from the 1956 French film Le Ballon Rouge, the show was first presented to great acclaim in 2008, and if that original show was anything like this remounting, it's no wonder people loved it. It's the story of a boy, sort of a loner, not really relating to the antics of his schoolmates, who one day sees a red balloon caught on a lamppost, and when he climbs up to get it, he begins a relationship that will change his life and the lives of those around him.

Now imagine this story happening with live actors, a live balloon, and a large animated background that includes moving vehicles and moving streets and cuckoo clocks and animals – an entire, utterly charming world created by animator and set designer Leah Lovise. Imagine the live actors entering into and becoming a part of this animated world as they ride buses, change hairstyles, buy clothes, or do a dozen other different things. Imagine the entire story set to a sublime, often soaring original score by Justin Sherburn. And finally, imagine all of this as a sort of a dance – a pantomime, if you will, but a pantomime with lots of dancelike movement – and with not a single word spoken or sung. Well, almost not a word. Not a word spoken by the actors anyway. A little girl, sitting quite close to me, one row down, kept up a sweet, whispering commentary to her mother throughout, and at a critical juncture uttered a question that could most certainly be heard, despite her quiet voice, by everyone in the audience, a question that should be pondered not just by children, but by anyone, old or young, when confronted with a seemingly random act of violence: "Why did they do that?"

What a brilliant piece of theatre. While I don't think director David Yeakle and his team, which includes an energetic, animated, and totally committed group of multitalented actors, have heard from points beyond Austin about producing this show, I have to wonder why not. It's a production for all ages that deserves to be seen by everyone. Perhaps most amazingly, this is in essence a community theatre effort, and it's as fine a show as you will see from any cast and crew, amateur or professional, anytime, anywhere. Perfection? No, but what would be the point of that? That wouldn't even be human, and that's what The Red Balloon most certainly is: kind, playful, gentle, caring, funny, beautiful, loving – a joyous live performance that can most certainly be described as utterly original and utterly, transcendently human.

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The Red Balloon, Tongue and Groove Theatre, David Yeakle, Leah Lovise, Justin Sherburn

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