Review: ‘The Little Prince’ (The Flea Theater)

Neither silly nor sentimental, this theatrical adaptation of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s classic and transcendentally beloved book at the Flea by a cast of neuro-inclusive performers is both epic and iridescent.

William Ketter and Anton Spivack. Photo by Ric Sechrest.

The Sahara is a daunting place for anyone bogged down by growing up: the terrain is tricky, the temperatures tempestuous. There’s no real estate value and zero potentiality for having neighbors and harboring convenient companionship. It’s certainly a scary setting for the Aviator, an adult man with a knack for creative illustrations that illuminate his ever present inner child. But when his plane crashes in the middle of the desert, panic overtakes him like a sandstorm. His anxiety initially blinds him to the bounteous beauties awaiting him: a fierce yet friendly Fox, a mystical Snake whose marvelous movements match the lovely lilt of her singing voice, infinite stars that populate the nighttime skies with a luminosity that could comfort just about any level of loneliness, and The Little Prince from a faraway planet on a quest for something inexplicable yet inherently human.

Nick Moscato. Photo by Ric Sechrest.

You can divide humanity into two factions: those who view Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s timeless story as farcically insignificant, and those who believe it to be fantastically influential to the point of enduring importance for children and adults alike. The EPIC Players Inclusion Company belongs to the latter group. The performing collective is neuro-diverse, and more than half of the ensemble’s actors have a developmental disability.

No matter, though — it is evident right off the bat that the standard these actors hold themselves to, independently and together as a team, is incredibly high. The story is taken seriously, but never to a degree of didacticism. The audience is trusted to form their own interpretations of the events that transpire onstage, and the actors are careful not to inform their actions with narrow emotional understandings. There’s enough room for ambiguity so that we in the audience can find our own idiosyncratic connecting threads to the characters and our heroes’ journeys, but there isn’t an indulgent amount of openness that would point to unspecific direction or general behavior that we wouldn’t believe.

Samantha Elisofon. Photo by Ric Sechrest.

The costumes are colorful and wonderful, but they do not wear the actors — which can often occur when ostentatious wardrobe overtakes the performers. Rather, the actors onstage command the costumes by using them to their most awe-inspiring degree. The audience is treated to fearlessness from the actors, each of them embodying such roles as: fun and flirty Roses in a field where vanity shamelessly blooms as their laughter fills the house, a garrulous Geographer who’s far too lazy for his job title, an always exhausted Lamplighter who recognizes that his management has not caught up to modern times, a King who’s somehow simultaneously megalomanic and magnanimous by ruling over absolutely no one and having no issue with that, a Conceited Man whose love for himself is matched only by his adoration for his own reflection, and a Business Woman who’s all about the ownership of objects rather than any sense of actually existing in tandem with other beings.

No matter how pompous or petty some of these characters appear to be, they all feel palpable. We all know someone who should relinquish an obsession with numbers and instead search for meaning in quality rather than quantity; we unfortunately are acquainted with someone who does most activities for an ideal Instagram appearance; we recognize someone who claims to be great at a job but has no idea that the healthy success of one’s own position depends on one’s ability to work with others in a mutually productive way. Choosing to present characters rather than caricatures, the EPIC Players confidently add vivacity and verisimilitude to this already visceral story.

Gideon Pianko. Photo by Ric Sechrest.

Subtle yet sweet moments abound. Two actors known as the Artists use chalk to draw everything from majestic mountains to royal kings to an elephant eaten by a boa constrictor, bringing to life the Aviator’s illustrations from his mini notepad. The Artists quietly sketch and erase and repeat on the floor, on the set pieces, on the brick wall. As this constant artistic metamorphosis occurs, the Aviator grapples with finding himself becoming just like “them” — the adults, apparently so knowledgable yet so unwilling to understand some of the most basic, beautiful, and bona fide realities of our time and existence on earth. Something this relatable is devastating to watch, but that makes the ending all the more liberating to anticipate — and to, finally, experience.

Imani Youngblood. Photo by Ric Sechrest.

A tender sequence all about taming is shared between the Little Prince and the fabulously personable Fox: the fellowship of two things that don’t usually belong together is heartwarming, complete with a simple dance that’s just delightful to watch. The Little Prince then realizes something salient about his relationship to his Rose:

The little prince went away, to look again at the roses.
“You are not at all like my rose,” he said. “As yet you are nothing. No one has tamed you, and you have tamed no one. You are like my fox when I first knew him. He was only a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But I have made him my friend, and now he is unique in all the world.”
And the roses were very much embarassed.
“You are beautiful, but you are empty,” he went on. “One could not die for you. To be sure, an ordinary passerby would think that my rose looked just like you — the rose that belongs to me. But in herself alone she is more important than all the hundreds of you other roses: because it is she that I have watered; because it is she that I have put under the glass globe; because it is she that I have sheltered behind the screen; because it is for her that I have killed the caterpillars (except the two or three that we saved to become butterflies); because it is she that I have listened to, when she grumbled, or boasted, or ever sometimes when she said nothing. Because she is my rose.” (Saint-Exupéry, 70)

That exceptional love we reserve for that one special person or thing in this universe is a specificity that was so skillfully adopted by the actors onstage towards their characters in this adaptation of a work both life-changing and life-validating. The work and care that the EPIC players put in to developing these fictional characters — which felt very real to me while I watched them! — is an admirable feat, one that I believe should encourage us to be better and kinder not only to those that we love — the Rose or Roses in our own lives — but to ourselves as well, for we are all the Aviator in search of someone or something to change us the way that the Little Prince — both the character and the book! — so effectively, effortlessly, and extraordinarily did and continues to do, no matter what age we’re at or where it is that we now find ourselves in the world.

© All photos by Ric Sechrest.

Produced by EPIC Players Inclusion Company. Written by Rick Cummins and John Scoullar, based off the book by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Directed by Travis Burbee. The cast features Miles Butler, Kim Carter, Jesus Chevez, Gianluca Cirafici, Talia Eapen, Samantha Elisofon, Ben Hill, William Ketter, Nick Moscato, Gideon Pianko, Anton Spivack*, and Imani Youngblood.

*appearing courtesy of Actors’ Equity Association

Tickets are $25 (general), $35 for (reserved), and $55 (premium seating with VIP gift) — available at Performances take place at The Flea Theater — The Siggy, 20 Thomas Street (between Broadway & Church Street), New York, NY 10007. Subways: A/C/E/1/2/3/J/M/Z to Chambers Street, N/Q to Canal Street, and the R/W/4/5/6 to City Hall.

Upcoming performances:
Friday, November 16th, at 7:00pm
Saturday, November 17th, at 3:00pm & 7:00pm
Sunday, November 18th, at 3:00pm