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The Little Prince

The Boston Repertory Theatre, at the Boston Center for the Arts, Thurs. and Fri. through February

By Kenneth G. Bartels

ANTOINE DE Saint Exupery wrote great adventure stories about airplanes, the kind of thing you liked in high school if you couldn't hack Fitzgerald. He also wrote a wonderful little story called The Little Prince, the kind of thing your mother read to you if you couldn't hack Winnie the Pooh. But The Little Prince, like so much children's literature, is directed towards the mother as much as the child.

Saint Exupery tells the story of a little man who lives all alone on a distant asteroid, of the journey that he takes from his asteroid to the Sahara Desert, and of the adventures he has there and elsewhere on the earth. His book is laced with quaint illustrations (by Saint Exupery himself) of a coa constrictor swallowing an elephant, baobab trees devouring a planet, and ant hill sized volcanoes.

But it is also laced with a philosophy of life; self-fulfillment comes only through complete devotion to someone else. On his journey through space the Little Prince encounters a whole series of lonely, tired men who act as foils for this philosophy; a king without subjects, a drunk who drinks to forget his shame of drinking, a businessman who has deluded himself into thinking that he owns the stars. Yet though it is a "message" book. Saint Exupery's prose is so delightfully disarming that even the most devoted of Ayn Rand's flock could swallow it.

David Zucker's adaptation of the book for the Boston Repertory Theatre is equally palatable: every line is lifted straight from the text. And his direction, using mime, narrative, and story-theatre vignettes, is effective and competent. It suits the tone of the text; no really fancy stuff, minimal action, and little of the "Isn't it neat that I'm a talking animal" coloring which mars so many stagings of children's stories. Zucker also is the Narrator. He gets the best of Saint Exupery's prose, and with fine modulation and good phrasing, he renders it well. Virginia Feingold as the Little Prince is the only real disappointment in the cast; she chooses to play him as an inquisitive little child, and comes across as downright irritating. The Little Prince is small and perhaps young, but he is not a child. He does ask questions, but he is not obnoxious about it.

BOSTON REPERTORY THEATRE is now the only repertory company in Boston. They founded themselves in 1970, and spent their first summer roughing it in a school auditorium in Hyannis. Plagued with money troubles, they were dormant until last summer, when they began performing in the basement of the Boston Center for the Arts, a cavernous old building south of the Combat Zone. Over the summer they ran on donations but were ripped off by so many people who didn't donate anything at all that they now have mandatory "contributions." If you still don't want to pay, though, you can perform some ominous sounding alternative service for the management.

Boston Repertory Theatre is an anomaly. They are non-political, and are not organized around the dominant "great" director, as most other small companies in Boston pretend to be. The attempt is rather to present a well-balanced program with enthusiasm and a fair degree of sophistication--a refreshing change. It's nice to have a company that does theatre not to sell its actors or their heads, but merely because it is good theatre.

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