By Marcy Stamper
Although the cast of The Wind in the Willows includes a rat, an otter, numerous ferrets and weasels, a toad and a hedgehog, it really isn’t about animals. “They behave just like people and wear people costumes,” said director Rod Molzahn.
The adaptation of the 1908 children’s classic that will be onstage for two weeks at The Merc Playhouse, beginning this weekend, is billed as “a play for young audiences.” But “adults will love it, too, because it’s a foray into their memory of the book,” said Missi Smith, The Merc’s executive director.
The story follows impetuous Toad, whose obsession with motor cars ultimately lands him in jail. Some of his animal friends try to help, but others try to take over Toad’s home.
Molzahn — a lifelong fan of the book, which he has read to his own children and to generations of elementary classes — said he particularly likes this adaptation because it retains the charming quality of the characters and language from the original.
“It’s very funny — they say funny things in the course of conversation. There’s a lot of humor for adults, too,” said Molzahn. The book is actually quite sophisticated, and many people essentially rediscover it as adults, he said.
There are two dozen young actors in the show, with lead roles played by Ilo Curtis (Toad) and Hazel Culpsmith (Mole). Many of them have appeared in Shakespearean plays directed by Molzahn.
Molzahn especially likes working with young actors because they are so willing to get out of their comfort zone. “It’s very satisfying to see kids excel at this kind of acting,” he said.
Molzahn hailed the many people who have contributed to the show, including the costume designer, painters of the fairy-tale backdrop, and light and sound technicians. “It’s going to be an artistic, visually interesting show,” said Smith.
The opening-night performance will be dedicated to Tom Zbyszewski, who acted in a dozen productions at The Merc from 2010 to 2013. Zbyszewski died fighting the Twisp River Fire last summer.
Zbyszewski’s memory will be honored with the renaming of the children’s program at the theater as the Tom Zbyszewski Children’s Theater at the Merc Playhouse.
Wind in the Willows runs from Friday (April 29) through May 8 at The Merc Playhouse in Twisp. Performances are Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets are $16 for adults, $5 for children, and $18 to reserve online at www.mercplayhouse.org. There is a pay-what-you-wish performance on Thursday, May 5.