I had never read French writer Jean Giono's novelette The Man Who Planted Trees, the inspiration for the show I was about to watch. Sitting in the darkened theater, looking at a simple set constructed mainly of burlap sacks, my daughter and I were unaware of the treat about to unfold before us.
Both touching and funny ("No Mom, not funny," my 8-year-old corrects me. "Hysterical!") the puppet show ingeniously delivers Giono's message of the power within each person to change the world for the better. With Earth Day and Arbor Day just around the corner, on April 22 and 29 respectively, The Man Who Planted Trees couldn't have come to our fair city at a better time.
The show tells the tale of a French shepherd, Elzéard Bouffier, who over the span of a few short decades, with the First and Second World Wars raging, methodically plants acorns that eventually transform a desolate countryside into a bustling woodland paradise.
A prolific writer, Giono is best known outside France for this inspiring 4,000-word story. He wrote it in response to a Reader's Digest request for a piece about "The Most Extraordinary Character I Ever Met." Since novelist Giono wrote a fictional tale, Reader's Digest refused to publish it, but it found its way into Vogue magazine in 1954.
Giono bequeathed The Man Who Planted Trees to the world, never accepting royalties from it. It has been translated into dozens of languages and inspired reforestation efforts all around the globe. As puppeteer Rick Conte put it, "Giono's story may not be true, but it has a great deal of truth in it."
Puppet State Theatre Company of Scotland's brilliant adaptation expands the role of the shepherd's dog, who acts as part narrator, part comic relief. The dog and shepherd puppets are masterfully brought to life by Conte. There was a moment, as the shepherd took a long, cool drink of water from a well, that I forgot I was looking at a burlap creation, so real and lifelike was the action.
With lavender oil and fans, the show transports the audience to the French countryside where lavender-scented breezes blow and you are able to fully experience the beauty of Bouffier's forest paradise.
The Man Who Planted Trees does not knock you over the head with its message, but strives instead to entertain and inspire. My daughter noted, "Even the grown-ups were laughing their heads off!"
IF YOU GO
Where: Seattle Children’s Theatre’s Eve Alvord Theatre, 201 Thomas St. at the Seattle Center.
When: Through May 1. Weekdays at 7 p.m., weekends at 5:30 p.m., matinees at 2 p.m. ASL-interpreted performance Saturday, April 30, at 2 p.m.
Admission: Tickets are $17-$27. Recommended for children ages 7 and older.
Contact: 206-441-3322; www.sct.org.
Laura Spruce Wight is a Seattle-area freelance writer and mother of two.