Dallas — Balloonacy, now playing the Dallas Children’s Theater, is a one-man show created specifically for preschool audiences- a crowd that normally has to sit patiently through events that will usually go a little too over their heads. The crowd on a rainy Sunday afternoon was raucous to say the least. It’s what I imagine a touring comedian has to face in the 10 p.m. show at a casino. Telling a crowd of preschoolers that it is not only OK but encouraged to scream at someone is just about the best thing you can say to them.
Barry Kornhauser’s play, directed by Dick Monday and performed wordlessly by Karl Schaeffer, is a wonderful experience for young children to engage with theater on exactly their developmental level. My children are 2 and 8, and each was a little too young and old, respectively, for the show. The ideal age range is probably somewhere between 2½ and 6. But for those specific ages you could not ask for a better time.
The show begins with a pre-performance speech to get the kids ready for the play. They are asked to identify emotions by facial expressions and also demonstrate them. The children are encouraged to help the Balloon Man by calling out directions to him. Two children in the front row just about had a heart attack screaming at the Man. At one point I even heard the girl whisper loudly to her brother, “Geez Louise! He’s so hard to control!”
This is what makes Balloonacy so perfect for this young age group. Kids in this specific older toddler and preschool group thrive on making their own choices, and being able to tell someone “no,” rather than hearing it, is something really fun for them. Older toddlers adept at identifying simple emotions like happiness, sadness, and anger will relate easily.
For adults, Balloonacy is a sweet story about relationships and loneliness. It begins with the Man walking in with a single bag of groceries with a baguette on top. The charming scenery, and apartment, complete with a Mona Lisa calendar set the tone for a Parisian spring day. Music that sounds straight out of the Midnight in Paris soundtrack perfectly complements the setting.
When a single red balloon floats into the window of a quiet man celebrating his birthday all alone we are brought into his world completely. Reticent to change, the Man shoos the balloon away. After a series of comical reappearances, including a hilarious scene with a plate of spaghetti that even had my 8-year-old laughing, the Man welcomes the balloon inside for a birthday party.
For the next 20 minutes the Man and the balloon experiences all the ups and down of any friendship- hilarious laughs and antics, hurt feelings, and forgiveness. The symbolism of a lonely man and balloon having a party together may go over young heads, but they will easily recognize his facial expressions and actions, as well as understand the emotions. There is something for everyone here.
Children with sensitivity to sound may shy at this show, not because the play is loud, but because this ecstatic audience of children being told it is OK to talk—and they will talk loudly—may be upsetting. Some younger babies (my 2year-old included) were a little overwhelmed by all the yelling.
Schaeffer is a delight. He engages with the audience and asks them for help to find the sneaky balloon that magically disappears and reappears throughout the set. Children will absolutely lose their minds during a cupcake mishap with the Man. For parents, it is a welcome change to sit with their kids and not beg them to keep quiet. Pillows in the front rows allow kids to get close and parents to hang back and relax. It is truly an event meant for families to enjoy something so simple and delightful.