Livewires Children’s Theatre

at Live Theatre

Three Wishes, by Corrina Maurio, is not one of those shows for adults and kids alike. There’s very little in this thinly disguised morality play about the dangers of lying to hold an adult’s interest. But the kids seemed to really enjoy the show–all of them lined up for a hug and a signed poster at the end–and when it comes right down to it that’s what counts.

A ten-year-old girl, Ellie, has developed a behavior pattern of lying. Though Ellie is basically a good kid, she’s become a scapegoat at school and has no friends. Meanwhile, on Earth’s “other” moon, genies are languishing in boredom. No one has wished for a genie in 300 years, since nobody believes in them anymore, and genies are not allowed to visit Earth unless they’re called.

The genies’ big chance comes when Ellie tells one of her tormentors, Dotty, that she has her own personal genie at home. Dotty tells Ellie to bring the genie to school on Monday. Ellie, feeling trapped, wishes she really did have a genie, and voila! One appears to grant Ellie three wishes.

But this misfit genie, named Wishless, must get Ellie to stop lying or else the genie will be banished from her moon. Of course the genie can’t, and Ellie uses up all her wishes to cover up the various messes created by her lies. Finally Wishless, unable to fulfill any more of Ellie’s wishes, gives her some simple advice: tell the truth. Wishless also performs some simple psychotherapy, making Ellie remember when it was that she first started lying as a way of life. The truth sets Ellie free, and everyone realizes that truth is better than fiction and friendship is more powerful than magic.

The contest between friendship and magic is actually a bit confusing. The play begins and ends with a little invocation of the power of imagination–and indeed, humans’ lack of imagination is what causes the genies’ exile. Yet the play sets out to prove that real solutions are the only true solutions, that magic and imagination are futile. What are Ellie’s lies, after all, but wishful imagining? Are we supposed to imagine or not? Personally, I believe that flights of fancy are crucial, but I honestly don’t know what the playwright thinks.

Livewires Children’s Theatre has devised a simple lighthearted production with a sparse set and only four actors: one who plays Ellie, another to play Wishless, and two more for various parts. None is very dynamic but all are apt, and the diminutive Traci Brenner makes a particularly sweet Ellie. Her dancing and singing are both lovely, providing a glimpse of what this show could have been. Dawn Hillman is a bit tentative as Wishless, but her boundless good spirits make her lovable anyway. Ann M. Clements and Andrew Snyder both give low-key performances, but they exude a spirit of fun that keeps the action moving. All four are very adept at interacting with the kids, eliciting responses from what seemed to me a very quiet audience without threatening the children or condescending to them.

Director Marcia Riegel has chosen to keep the supernatural effects to a minimum, stressing the realities behind the fantastical story. Even the joyous romp of the genies (they dance to “I Feel Good” a few times) looks more like Eddie Murphy imitating white people than the gleeful rejoicing of mystical imps. Riegel’s costume designs are equally bland. The genies are not exotic but ever so slightly eccentric–a kind of Mork from Ork fashion statement. Brent Meyer’s lighting design keeps to Riegel’s vision of ordinariness. He’s created basic area lighting, staying away from color or texture.

The actors save the show from the totally mundane by insisting on audience participation. On the day I saw Three Wishes, after some coaxing the kids just ate it up. With the actors’ encouragement, the most spontaneously joyful moments of the show come from the audience.