Talking candidly to children about war and peace, mental and physical illness, unwanted pregnancy and other mature concerns requires frankness, but also some delicacy, humor, reassurance.
At least, that is the way playwright Suzan Zeder goes about it in “The Edge of Peace,” her thoughtful new drama for youths ages 10 and up at Seattle Children’s Theatre.
Directed by Linda Hartzell, who also staged the play’s Austin, Texas, debut, this tale by a nationally known dramatist for young audiences is set in a small Midwestern town in 1945, near the end of World War II.
Whip-smart, 11-year old Buddy (Nate Kelderman) anxiously awaits news of his soldier brother, who is missing in action overseas. And Buddy’s active imagination erupts when he learns a German soldier is on the loose, after escaping from a local prisoner-of-war camp.
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But “The Edge of Peace” doesn’t just unfold from a child’s vantage point. One of its strengths is in portraying a close-knit community of interconnected people who have relied on one another through hard times on the home front, but who as peace draws near must face individual battles of their own.
The compassionate town letter carrier and mechanic Tuc (the fine deaf actor Robert Schleifer, whose sign-language dialogue is given simultaneous interpretation) is beloved as “the best listener in town.” But he feels isolated, and quietly yearns to live in a place with more deaf people. Scrappy local elder and healer Nell (compelling Franchelle Stewart Dorn) raises suspicions of treason, but won’t share the reasons for her behavior.
Grocery store proprietor Clovis (Todd Jefferson Moore) serves as a father figure for Buddy, and keeps the boy’s action-hero fantasies in check. And a spunky aviator, known as Girl (Alexis Scott), wonders about her future once the troops return home to jobs women have gladly been doing in their absence.
Zeder employs numerous contrivances, including something of a deus ex machina, to keep the plot popping. That didn’t bother the attentive young audience at a recent school matinee. Loud gasps were heard as suspense rose and secrets were revealed, and Buddy’s antics as a self-styled crime fighter triggered laughter.
Moreover, “The Edge of the Peace” stirs up sympathy for all its characters, and understanding for the difficult life choices they must make. The message is toleration, and fellowship, delivered in good part by the cohesive cast of Austin and Seattle actors (which also includes, among others, Suzanne Bouchard). They bring sensitivity and sparkle to their roles.
The era and the setting are effectively drawn with period detail, in the costumes of Hope MacRoberts Bennett and scenery by Jeff Kurihara. Hartzell’s staging is smooth and assured: no surprise, given that SCT has previously presented the well-received first two plays in Zeder’s trilogy, “Mother Hicks” and “The Taste of Sunrise.”
Misha Berson: firstname.lastname@example.org