Stage version of The Velveteen Rabbit brings new energy to the classic storybook's gentle tale

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      By Kevin Del Aguila. Based on the book by Margery Williams. Directed by Deb Williams. A Carousel Theatre production. At the Waterfront Theatre on Sunday, March 4. Continues until March 25

      Confession: I read The Velveteen Rabbit for the first time about an hour before seeing the show. Somehow, this children’s classic, written nearly a century ago, managed to elude me as both a child and a parent. Carousel Theatre’s stage interpretation delivers the story’s messages about love, acceptance, and change in a format that jazzes up the original work’s gentle style.

      Margery Williams’s book tells the story of a boy’s beloved stuffed rabbit, looked down on by both the fancier toys and real-life rabbits, who yearns to become real, even if he’s not entirely sure what that means. Kevin Del Aguila’s adaptation alternates between passages narrated in Williams’s somewhat old-fashioned language and dramatized scenes whose content is considerably more contemporary.

      The “mechanical” toys, for example, have sophisticated electronic features and lots of batteries; when they ask, “Do you even have a button or a switch on you?” and the Velveteen Rabbit says no, they are incredulous: “You’re freakin’ me out, dude!” The live rabbits that our hero encounters have Brooklyn accents and make references to “feeling the boin” as they dance. But these trappings don’t take anything away from the story’s timeless message: everything grows and everything changes.

      Deb Williams directs an energetic cast of three, each of whom takes on multiple roles. Amanda Testini plays the Boy with vigorous innocence, Steffanie Davis is a stern but sweet Nana, and Victor Mariano is a giddy, excitable Rabbit. The performers (with occasional on-stage help from apprentice stage manager Jessica Keenan) draw the young audience directly into the action, getting it to help make the sounds of a rainstorm, for instance, or demonstrating dance moves. This impulse is sometimes taken too far, though: an introductory sequence, in which the three discuss the ingredients for a play, goes on too long and delays the start of the show.

      Yvan Morissette’s handsome set, with its revolving bedroom window and giant wooden blocks, creates the worlds both inside and outside the boy’s room in colourful, magical ways: raspberry bushes “grow” on a bed frame, for example. Darren Boquist’s lighting traces the passing seasons through simple visual gestures, and Malcolm Dow’s original music gently underscores the changes.

      The rabbit eventually becomes real by being loved. That’s a desire that every kid—and adult—can relate to.