Review of The Magic Paintbrush
March 5, 2011
by Erin Link
4041 Campbell Ave.
Arlington, VA 22206
Meg Maxwell as Dragon
Photo by Yulia Kriskovets
Since writing the review, some exciting news comes from Synetic Family Theatre! The Magic Paintbrush, is Helen Hayes Award Recommended and is being extended a second time through April 17th! Purchase your tickets online.
Imagine an old, old story being told in a small dark theater, with not a single word spoken. Now picture a nine-year-old. One who would love to play video games all day and all night if allowed, perched on the edge of the seat, mouth wide open, eyes like saucers. Seems impossible to believe, but it actually happened!
We arrived at Synetic Family Theater's Shirlington Village venue on a chilly Saturday afternoon for the 4pm performance of The Magic Paintbrush, an ancient Chinese tale, directed by Elena Velasco. Upon entering the theater's tiny lobby, the youngest member of our review team headed straight for a bucket of markers teetering on a very small table. She muscled in and got herself a half-size coloring page featuring a Chinese dragon. Up above the little table was a bulletin board displaying completed coloring pages under the title "How would you color YOUR dragon?"
We appreciated this welcoming touch and also the warm and friendly staff at the box office. About 15 minutes before the show was to begin, the double doors were opened and we filed into the intimate, dark space. The rows of clean, cushioned seats are arranged stadium-style, but even so we heard many voices saying "I can't see!" as the theater began to fill. At 4:04, the audience was welcomed with very brief remarks and the Magic began...
Using a mesmerizing and riveting blend of lighting, music, pantomime and fabric, we were transported back to Ancient China. You'll be capitvated by scenes of the river banks, an art studio, a marketplace, an Emperor's palace and fantastical dream worlds. And we watched unfold without words the story of a poor orphan lacking social standing but possessing talent and imagination. The Orphan dreams of becoming an artist, and one day is presented a magic paintbrush by a mysterious old man. When the power of this magic paintbrush is revealed, struggles and setbacks ensue. At one point the evil Emperor appears to have prevailed over the Orphan, but he is outwitted, and good wins in the end.
The Magic Paintbrush features six athletically talented actors playing multiple roles. They do not speak with their voices, but their bodies and facial expressions convey more perhaps than words could. The simple set includes just three black cubes and two bright red, silky curtains that hang floor to ceiling. These curtains are used to amazing effect during several scenes featuring breathtaking aerial work.
Other thrilling scenes include the lion dance, when the large gold lion, to the rising beat of powerful drums, comes into the audience. But the lion is only a foretaste. Later in the story the Orphan is chased by a soldier, and again, into the audience they come! Teetering on the railing immediately behind audience members' heads in fact. These are sensational moments indeed.
There is nothing offensive in The Magic Paintbrush. However, one grandmother in the audience commented that there were a couple of scenes (dream sequences) with loud music and darker lighting that she felt could be a bit intense for younger children.
You may want to read the program with your child before the show starts and talk about the story, so they have some idea what to expect. We overheard several whispers of, "What's happening?" Better yet, read the Chinese folktale before heading to the theatre. Our soon-to-be-4-year-old grew restless about 45 minutes into the near one-hour performance. However, she is active by nature and other preschoolers nearby didn't appear restless.
- The Magic Paintbrush runs Saturdays and Sundays now through April 3, 2011. Tickets range from $10 for groups to $15 at the door and can be purchased online. Discount tickets are available to Our Kids members, click here.
- Seating is not reserved. Doors open 15 minutes before performances, so arrive early to get your choice of seats.
- Restrooms are readily available in the small lobby. There is no changing table, and no room to park a stroller.
- There are several free parking garages and a lot nearby, as well as limited street parking.
- Shirlington Village offers a wide variety of family-friendly places to get a bite to eat before or after the show.
Have you seen The Magic Paintbrush? What's your opinion? Just drop us a note and Our Kids will add your comments to this review.