WINNIE THE POOH Is The Breath Of Fresh Air You Didn’t Know You Needed
Theatre is in a tough spot right now, and I’m sure that’s not news to anyone reading this. Productions in New York, across the country, and internationally are fighting to remain open in a season that feels more crucial than ever.
This month already, I’ve felt an additional sense of overwhelm with every visit to the theater. There’s the COVID safety teams, checking cards of vaccination proof for hours, no matter the weather. The in-theatre staff who have adopted the stealthiest of tactics to encourage audience members to wear their masks properly. And the performers, musicians, and production staff, who have given up so much of their social lives and their day to day habits to allow for the show to go on. It’s easy to feel the weight of that, regardless of the content onstage.
And that’s where Winnie the Pooh comes in. Hard-hitting contemporary theatre, I know. For one hour on a freezing cold Saturday morning, I sat at Theatre Row in some sort of alternate universe—one where things were unabashedly lighthearted and wondrous again. It’s not often that I see theatre as an “escape,” in the way that maybe sitting in an empty movie theatre is. I tend to think of it as an invitation into someone else’s world where I’ll find questions to ponder, dynamics to admire, and sometimes, too, an experience that entertains. But sitting in that second row, as a handful of talented actors handled both the plot and the puppets, I really just took some time to enjoy.
Winnie the Pooh at Theatre Row is like a long exhale. Settling into a comfy chair, holding a warm mug. It’s a production that is crisp, beautifully executed, and - if you asked the toddler sitting near me at the performance - the most gripping story line ever written about a bear in dire need of honey. The characters, conventions, and general sound of the show bring something comfortable and nostalgic, easy to do since the source has been around since 1926. It is the production aspects however, that offer effortlessly lovely artistry in a format we don’t see too frequently. Each and every detail created this cozy little world, where I was just a guest in the Hundred Acre Wood.
There are plenty of people who see Winnie the Pooh because they’re particularly fond of the story, remembering it from their own childhoods. And plenty of families come to the show because they have kids to entertain. But I went to remember why we’re doing this—working in an industry that’s facing big questions and big challenges. I saw Winnie the Pooh as a reminder that theatre can bring out the best in people. And that storytelling will always be our best means of connection, even if the situation is less than ideal.
The production is set to close here in New York at the end of the month, opening again at the Mercury Theater in Chicago in mid-March. For tickets and more information, visit here.