MOM REVIEW: ‘My Very Own Polar Bear’
The Act II Playhouse's original children's show is fun while addressing a tough topic.
The Act II Playhouse’s original show, My Very Own Polar Bear, opens…well, I don’t know how it opens, because my daughter and I were 15 minutes late to the show.
But, once we entered the playhouse, we could hear the play in progress and the children in the audience interacting with the lovable Ralph, the Polar Bear (played by Patrick Romano).
As we arrived at our seats, my 4-1/2-year-old daughter was immediately drawn into the story about this creative little girl and her polar bear. Since we missed the first 15 minutes, I pieced together the story from where we joined in. Emma, the main character and owner of Ralph (played by Katie Stahl), has just moved into a new home with her mother since her parents have recently divorced.
Seeing that she is having a difficult time handling this transition, Emma’s mother (played by Heather Plank) buys Emma a new stuffed animal for the holidays: a polar bear, thinking the bear will help Emma become a brave adventurer.
While Emma is trying to find her way through the beginning of this new chapter in her life — all the while butting heads with her mother — Ralph is also trying to find his “roar.” Apparently, he has not learned to “roar” properly just yet.
And, at different times, he enlists the audience’s help, asking them to “roar” with him. But he can’t quite get it — just as Emma can’t quite get why her parents have divorced and she has to live this new life.
In the next few scenes, we see Emma and Ralph interacting in her room, as Ralph has become the one Emma can confide in during this transition time. They play hide and seek, dance, and invent all sorts of imaginary games, and all the while Ralph uses his lovable slapstick comedy to keep the audience engaged.
One of the other activities Emma and Ralph do in her room is work on her time machine, made out of a moving box from the move, and creatively decorated in leftover wrapping paper, bows, ribbons, pipe cleaners, and paint. They are readying it for their take-off mission, back to the life Emma led before the divorce.
Emma also has one prized possession from her former life, a bright green scarf, that Ralph is seemingly drawn to and touches every time Emma leaves her bedroom. Emma repeatedly tells Ralph to stop touching the scarf, but he can’t seem to help himself, no matter how dire the consequence Emma puts in from of him. Finally exasperated by Ralph, Emma confides in him why the scarf is so important to her.
After finally feeling like she has connected with Ralph, Emma wants to finish the time machine so they can set off on their mission. But her mother has taken her “time machine” to the recycling bin, leaving Emma to confront the fact there is no turning back now to the past.
The play winds down with mother and daughter finally seeing eye to eye, and ready to set off on their new adventure — together.
Bill D’Agostino takes the very difficult topic of divorce, and its transition, and presents it in a lovely, comedic and approachable way. He displays gentility in writing the characters, no judgment in how some parents and children deal with divorce, and exposes the the strong emotions children can have in the wake of a divorce.
While my daughter probably didn’t pick up on all of these grown-up undertones in the play, it was refreshing to see that he wrote it from such a caring perspective, as a parent himself, this is a show that’s enjoyable for all ages, while covering a topic that many have to face.
My Very Own Polar Bear runs through December 31 at the Act II Playhouse in Ambler. For tickets, call the Act II box office at 215-654-0200, visit the theater’s website, or purchase tickets in person at 56 E. Butler Ave. in Ambler. The play is recommended for ages 5 and up, and runs approximately an hour.
Photograph courtesy of the Act II Playhouse.