It is to be hoped that Jeff Swearingen will revisit Laughter in the Stars, his adaptation of Antoine de Saint-Exupery's beloved 1943 novella The Little Prince, later, with more money and a tighter production. As is, the production playing this weekend from his outfit Fun House Theatre and Film, at the Plano Children's Theatre space, is low-budget, but still sweet enough to whet the appetite.
Swearingen also directs the show and plays the Fox, and his love for the story is apparent. In fact, he loves it so much that his adaptation is pretty square, and doesn't allow for his imagination to shine through.
Laughter in the Stars takes the book's 27 chapters and gets the nuts and bolts of the story down to a 90-minute, intermissionless show.
A young man loves to draw, and grows up to be a Pilot (Shane Beeson) who crashes his plane in the Sahara desert. There he meets the Little Prince (Shane's son Jaxon Beeson), who tells his story of coming from another planet/asteroid, and journeying to other planets and meeting various types, including a beautiful Rose (Kennedy Waterman). In the desert, there's also a scheming Snake (Andy Baldwin) and a sage Fox (Swearingen).
Seen on opening night, Thursday, the show had some technical kinks to work, and moved sluggishly. Some of that should tighten up for the remaining four performances this weekend. It's also rough in the scenes where the Little Prince meets the various people on other planets.
But, what holds it together are the endearing performances from the Beesons. Jaxon, 11, has put some thought into this character, and it shows. The knowledge that they are father and son adds to the clarity of their onstage connection. It's beautiful.
Aside from Jaxon, Kennedy Waterman, as that ephemeral flower with whom the Prince falls in love, is the best of the youth actors here. Baldwin and Swearingen bring their usual professionalism to the table, but that only makes flaws in the youth ensemble more obvious.
The set is bare-bones, with only a few set pieces (a trunk, small tables) brought on for various scenes, and the projections of the Pilot's youth drawings and the birds that carry the Little Prince from planet to planet are a nice touch (animation by Jay Schuh).
The Little Prince has been adapted for film, opera and theater many times. Hip Pocket Theatre did a lovely and imaginative puppet version years ago, called How I Fixed My Engine with Rose Water.
As sweet as Laughter in the Stars is, Swearingen's adaptation treats the material too reverentially, not giving us much to reflect on its themes of growing up, reponsibility and taking time for the things that matter most. But, passing on great literature to younger generations through performance is commendable.
With some more developement, the next incarnation of Laughter in the Stars could very likely blossom.