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Kids' Theater Review: Seattle Children's Theatre's "A Single Shard"

single-shardBy Alison Landeros

A Single Shard, Seattle Children’s Theatre’s captivating new production, is an emotionally charged tale of morality and the ethical choices we make as we pursue our dreams. Twelve-year-old Tree-Ear (portrayed by Jason Ko in his professional stage debut) the resolute young protagonist, is a character worthy of admiration by children and adults alike. Orphaned as an infant and living under a bridge in 12th century Korea, Tree-Ear leaves behind his humble beginnings and all he knows to embark on a transformative journey that will alter the course of his life forever.

This evocative story is well delivered by a small, largely Asian-American cast. Ko, a second-year MFA actor, convincingly portrays Tree-Ear with wide-eyed determination. Crane-Man, Tree-Ear’s aged guardian and only friend, is a wise and gentle character, played by seasoned actor Ho-Kwan Tse with a sweetness that comes across as absolutely sincere. The dialogue between these two characters is charming and funny, as are the interactions between the rumbling Master Potter Min and his kind-hearted wife, played by Scott Koh and Naho Shioya. Throughout the course of the play, there were a few instances of fudged lines, but this hardly affected the quality of the final product.

The story plays out against a set that is gorgeously austere and visually balanced. The scenery consists only of earth-toned Asian landscape paintings on large screens against a black backdrop. Notable props are limited to a simple wooden pushcart and a foot-powered potting wheel on which Master Min actually works clay during the play. The simplicity of the set highlights one of the play’s most enchanting aspects: as characters recount tales from folklore or their own experience, the story is acted out behind them onstage. Some of this is achieved through artistically choreographed sword fighting and dance, while other stories involve the use of puppetry that while simple, is haunting in its beauty.

It is the power of story and proverb, and particularly the resonant ethical messaging of Crane-Man, that act as our protagonist’s moral compass while he navigates a great deal of ethically difficult terrain. Through all of these hardships, Tree-Ear, a young man determined to keep his promises, reminds himself of Crane-Man’s maxim, “If you try, you might fail; but if you don’t try, you will surely fail.”

While this story appeals to a wide audience, it is recommended for children over eight years old. After the conclusion of the show, the cast leads a conversation where children in the audience are asked to recall the moral questions Tree-Ear struggled with during the play. On opening night the younger audience members eagerly and thoughtfully discussed issues raised.

A Single Shard offers boys and girls alike an outstanding example of a person with true integrity, while also suggesting that we don’t always have the answer to every question. Don’t miss this opportunity to open up a valuable dialogue with your children about important moral questions, or to delight in this contemplative, gracefully rendered tale.

If you go:

When: A Single Shard runs through Sunday, March 18. Thursday-Friday shows at 7 p.m.; Saturdays at 2 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.; Sundays at 11 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. There is an ASL-interpreted performance on March 10 at 2 p.m.

Prices: $20-$36, flex-passes are available

Where: Seattle Children’s Theatre at the Seattle Center

Tickets and information:

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