Dallas — At Dallas Children’s Theater's sold-out Sunday matinee of BLUE, three rows of toddlers excitedly squirmed on blue floor pillows wielding snacks and toys. Parents and grandparents who weren’t keen on sitting crisscross filled the seats of the smaller theater in the Rosewood Center for Family Arts. On stage was a whimsical blanket fort cast in blue light with various blue props lying around.
“Rhapsody in Blue” starts playing and on cue a foot sticks out of the blanket fort to point and flex to the lethargic musical notes drawn out by a clarinet. A bluebird perches on top of the clothesline, the blue flowers in the window box grow, a blue flag pops up at the pinnacle of the fort, and out jumps Pale Blue wearing his pajamas. He takes a moment to admire his surroundings.
Snoring is heard from the blanket fort and Pale realizes that he needs to wake his friend Inky Blue. Pale walks over to a giant circular chalkboard and draws a feather. Magically a feather appears. The little audience members gleefully laugh. Pale leans through the window to tickle Inky awake, but his friend doesn’t wake up until he pours water on her. Out pops Inky spewing a mouth full of water. “Blue morning!” they greet each other which elicits more giggles from the toddlers who know that the proper phrase is “good morning.”
Karl Schaeffer and Tiffany Riley’s use of physical comedy make Pale and Inky more lovable, three-dimensional cartoons than the slapstick-happy Marx Brothers. The actors’ background in clowning adds depth to the pantomimes that made even adults in the audience smile. Riley is a veteran clown and the leader of multiple therapeutic clown troupes that perform at children’s hospitals. Outside of being an Artist-in-Residence at DCT, Schaeffer is a part of Riley’s clowning troupe Funnyatrics, which she runs with her husband Dick Monday, who directs BLUE.
Pale and Inky go about their morning routine with famous songs by Gershwin playing in the background. The only time they speak is to point out that everything in their world is their favorite color. Inky goes to prepare breakfast. As she pours a bowl of blue cereal, a red flake falls out. Pale gasps in horror, Inky is intrigued.
“Can we keep it? Can we eat it?” asks Inky.
“No, it is red! We are blue!” says Pale.
He creeps over to the trashcan while keeping the cereal bowl at an exaggerated arms length away. The duo goes about their day of making funny faces, blowing bubbles, chasing each other around until Inky discovers a red sock. Again Pale adamantly explains that red does not belong in the world of blue. Red is bad, red is wrong, and red things belong in the trash. This time he forces Inky to throw the red item away. A little boy in the audience shouts out, “that’s mean!” Inky thinks so too and later fishes the sock out of the trash to hid it.
The story of BLUE is meant to teach preschoolers the importance of diversity and acceptance. The irrational “us verses them” mentality that pollutes society seems comical and outrageous when it’s framed as a red sock rejected from a blue world. Dallas Children’s Theater creates a play silly enough to hold the attention of dozens of toddlers with a palatable, concise message that “different” should be celebrated.
The blue world isn’t the same after Inky sees the value of the red sock. Pale and Inky’s routine is interrupted as socks of all colors start appearing. As Inky describes the different attributes of the colors, light projections illuminate the stage. Pandora’s box has been opened as socks of the rainbow fall from the sky and launch from over the fort. Pale tries to get rid of the socks while Inky spins around in the flurry. After the socks are collected, Pale banishes his friend from the blue world. Inky woefully walks offstage with her basket of colorful socks. Two feet tall figures express concern and jump up within the audience. The little ones crane their necks as they watch Inky leave.
The following day Pale continues to do things the way he’s always done them. He soon discovers that there’s a void without his friend and has a change of heart. The strumming of a ukulele starts and Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” appropriately concludes the play. Smiling faces turn upward as socks are dropped and suspended above the audience.
BLUE feels like a combination of the zany world of Dr. Suess and the morally upstanding Berenstain Bears. It was refreshing to see the Dallas community enriching their toddlers’ lives in an era in which 3-year-olds play on iPads. The effort put into creating a theater experience for preschoolers is commendable and worth the investment.