Dallas — Although it's written specifically for the youngest theatergoers (ages 2 and older), Balloonacy is a master class in acting in its purest form—no spoken words, no songs, no lavish production numbers or special effects—just body language, facial expressions and reactions. Oh, and one contrary co-star, a bright red balloon on a string.
Balloonacy, an award-winning play by Barry Kornhauser, an expert in developing theater for the very young, is Dallas Children's Theater's first production especially for preschoolers. It takes place in DCT's smaller, more intimate studio theater. DCT has made the theater even more kid-friendly by removing the chairs in the first three rows and inviting the little ones and their parents to sit on pillows and cushions instead, adding to the story-telling ambiance. The new seating arrangement proved to be popular with Friday night's full opening night audience.
Like the play itself, the action begins simply. An unassuming, shy and slightly skittish old man makes his way through the audience clutching a grocery bag, flowers and a baguette of bread. The audience joins him in his cozy Paris apartment overlooking the city, where he has planned a birthday party for one: himself. He's barely into his birthday meal of spaghetti when the scene-stealing red balloon appears. What transpires is a charming, funny and heart-warming tale of friendship.
Karl Schaeffer, now celebrating 31 years with DCT after becoming its first-ever employee, plays the old man. He is so charming and endearing that the audience can't help but fall in love with him right away. As he has demonstrated in numerous children's productions, Schaeffer is a master of physical theater, and in Balloonacy, he is aided by director Dick Monday, an accomplished clown well known in the Metroplex for his work with Lone Star Circus along with his sidekick and real-life wife, Slappy (Tiffany Riley). Before settling in Dallas-Fort Worth, Monday was director of the Barnum & Bailey Clown College and created and directed all of the clowning for the circus.
As audiences will see in Balloonacy, clowning isn't limited to big red noses and floppy shoes. It's another form of theatrical expression that brings the story of the old man and the balloon to life. Appropriate sound effects and underscoring add to the whimsy. There are several wonderfully magical touches that it would be a shame to spoil.
What's equally refreshing as seeing the play is experiencing the audience's reaction. At the beginning of the show, the audience is encouraged to react to what's happening on the stage by talking to the old man and pointing. It's a joy to watch the youngest audience members and their parents unleash their imaginations and buy into the story so enthusiastically and completely.
You'll want to float on over to Dallas Children's Theater soon though. This special engagement runs only one more weekend before it runs out of air.