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Be careful what you wish for

Rhinebeck’s Cocoon Theatre stages E. Nesbit’s Five Children and It opening this Friday

by Paul Smart
December 09, 2010 10:00 AM | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
It’s one thing to be labeled the first modern writer for children, a prolific author of more than 40 books on her own and another 40 in collaboration with others, as well as an influence on every kids’ writer since, from C. S. Lewis to J. K. Rowling, and the noted playwright and wit Noel Coward. But it’s altogether another matter to have founded the famed Fabian Society, which would later spawn Great Britain’s Labour Party and much of what gets lamented these days as European Socialism – while raising not only her own three children, but another pair or so fathered by her open-marriage husband of 35 years. But such was Edith Nesbit, most of whose works have come down under her slightly degenderized name of E. Nesbit – including the great Five Children and It, which will be presented in theatrical form by Cocoon Theatre of Rhinebeck in its 18th annual holiday production across from the Beekman Arms from this Friday night, December 10, through Sunday December 19.

What made Nesbit “modern” in the genre of children’s literature? Instead of simply tossing kids into pure fantasies such as Alice’s descent, or Toad’s world in The Wind in the Willows, she dealt with the prickly interactions of kids and their world.

Consider the basic elements in this year’s Cocoon offering, which was made into a film starring Freddie Highmore, Kenneth Branagh and the voice of Eddie Izzard six years ago. The five brothers and sisters at the center of the adventure call each other Squirrel, Panther, Bobs, Pussy and the Lamb. “It,” the grumpy, ugly-as-all-get-out and somewhat malevolent Sand Fairy whom they uncover in an old gravel pit after moving with their parents from London to the countryside, is a Psammead: a term that Nesbit made up out of solid etymological roots for this book.

The plot ensues when It has to grant the children a flurry of wishes, all which tend to disappear by sunset – and which, in the end, all tend to have odd results, from being “beautiful as the day” to growing wings, or ensuring that everyone love the Lamb, resulting in his near-kidnapping, or that he “grow up,” whereby he becomes an “unpleasant and condescending” older man. In other words, it’s a grand recipe for holiday fare, as if ordered by parents to ensure that their kids get through the maze of desires represented by the coming weeks without becoming total brats.

Five Children and It will run Fridays and Saturdays at 7 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m., December 10 through 19 at the Cocoon Theatre, located at 6384 Mill Street (Route 9), directly across from the Beekman Arms in the center of Rhinebeck. For further information and reservations, call (845) 876-6470 or visit www.cocoontheatre.org.

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