Delicately poised between children’s fable and adult reverie at once, only to become another transcendent thing altogether, “Walking the Tightrope” at 24th Street Theatre delivers the evocative, cathartic goods.
In its pitch-perfect West Coast premiere, British playwright Mike Kenny’s perceptive take on the eternal cycle is as artfully simple, theatrically poetic and deeply affecting a chamber piece as any in recent memory.
Every summer’s end, since she was growing in her mum’s tummy, young Esme has visited her grandparents at the seaside. This year, however, something’s changed. The house is the same, the kitchen’s the same, the sun and the birds and the tides on the beach are the same. So, as Esme inquires of shakily taciturn Granddad Stan, where’s Nanna?
The inevitable, gradually arrived-at answer to that question is handled with taste, charm and breathtaking imagination. One of the loveliest aspects of this sui generis miniature is that it neither talks down to small viewers nor telegraphs for their elders.
In the invisible hands of director Debbie Devine, a brilliantly self-effacing design team -- John Zalewski’s sound and Matthew Hill’s videos are particularly indispensable -- and an exquisitely judged cast illuminate the dualistic, beautifully specific third-person narrative to a quietly mesmeric fare-thee-well.
Paige Lindsey White, so memorable in “The Children,” embodies Esme with a vivid spontaneity that wouldn't shame Toni Collette; Mark Bramhall, a superb actor if ever one lived, inhabits Granddad Stan to his marrow. They, together with Tony Duran’s keenly metaphoric Clown and Michael Redfield’s aptly atmospheric Musician, are beyond praise and beyond criticism, to a preternatural degree.
So is “Walking the Tightrope,” a textbook example of what author William Goldman described in his landmark Broadway tome “The Season” as “doing our thing,” and an indelible must-see for all ages.
“Walking the Tightrope,” 24th Street Theatre, 1117 W. 24th St., L.A. 2 and 7:30 p.m, Saturdays. Ends March 30. $12-$15. 213-745-6516 or www.24thstreet.org. Running time: 65 minutes.
Update: An earlier version of this story said that "Walking the Tightrope" closes March 10. It closes March 30.