Seeing the glass half full is a life skill that is easier for some than others. For Danny, played by Quinn Armstrong, it comes as naturally as breathing. The story of Danny, King of the Basement, now playing at Seattle Children's Theatre, contains some serious topics, but is also filled with heaps of hope, optimism and friendship.
With a deadbeat dad, a mom with a string of dead-end jobs, numerous visits to shelters and more than nine places called home within two years, Danny has a heavy load for a kid to carry. The beauty of the story is not just that Danny is able to navigate the disadvantages of his life, but that he is able to teach others how to see the bright side of their own situations. He has the uncanny ability to see other people's anger and aloofness and identify the frustration and hurt that is the source of their actions.
What is the key to Danny's upbeat nature? Imagination. It's the one thing that he will always have with him, no matter how many times he moves. It is free, inextinguishable and never runs out. His power to cope with his situation comes from his imagination, and what an imagination it is.
The other kids in the neighborhood are drawn to Danny due to his ability to find fun in every situation. With a little coaching from Danny, they too learn the power of imagination. More importantly, they learn that being friends is more fun than making fun of each other. Even my 8-year-old noticed that it was the poorest friend who had the most to give and whose gift was priceless; friendship is a gift that everyone can give.
The show is simple in terms of cast with only four main characters. However, the sets and special effects are worthy of a big production. From a moving trolley car to a two-story home, the sets are simply amazing. During a Q&A after the show, the audience was let in on a few special effect secrets. My daughter loves knowing the inside scoop and the fact that there are people we can't see that are integral to the success of the show. However, she still assures me that she would prefer to be one of the people on stage that you can see. She also really enjoyed the creative ways they produced voices for off-stage characters.
With a show time of 75 minutes (no intermission), it is a great length for kids, and quite an impressive feat for the cast, some of whom stay on stage almost the entire time.
Social consciousness is a tricky topic to introduce to kids. Danny, King of the Basement provides an opportunity for so many discussions. The poor and homeless are given a face, and not one just to be pitied. They are real people, and people that you like and want to be around. Understanding the daily struggles that so many people have with food and clothing is pretty heavy for a kid.
If you have time post-show, the program has a shopping challenge. You are given a budget and a price list for items and have to decide what you will get for your new basement apartment. The activity is mirrored in the play when Danny and his mother spend their last $7 on groceries. Determining which items will provide the most food is tough.
The one element that my 8-year-old did not understand was why Danny's mother would get so upset when his imaginary games would lead him to lie down on the sidewalk or crawl around. My daughter thought she was overly concerned with him getting dirty until I explained that they didn't own a washing machine and the Laundromat costs money.
With all these weighty issues, is the play too much for children? The theatre recommends the play for ages 8 and older, and I think they are spot on. Not only does the play touch on issues that affect kids within their schools and neighborhoods, it does it in a sensitive manner, almost as if they are measuring the words, never going too long without interjecting humor and tenderness.
Ending with a strong sense of hope and value on relationships is empowering to everyone in the audience. Kudos to Seattle Children's Theatre for showcasing a play that addresses the issues of poverty and homelessness while maintaining an uplifting nature and the spirit of hope.
IF YOU GO
Where: Seattle Children’s Theatre, 201 Thomas St., Seattle.
When: Now through Nov. 18. Thursdays and Fridays at 7 p.m., Saturdays at 2 and 5:30 p.m., Sundays at 11 a.m. and 2:30 p.m.
Cost: Adults $20-$36, children $20-$29.
Contact: 206-441-3322 or www.sct.org.
Kelly Rogers Flynt is a freelance writer based in Lake Forest Park and mother of two children, ages 11 and 8.