There’s a notion that we choose our parents. As The Yellow Boat begins, the audience witnesses Benjamin (Rudy Ramirez) choose his parents (Katie McFadzen and Kyle Sorrell). It’s easy to see why; he chooses two solid, loving ones who lavish attention on their only child, fully embracing his active imagination and artistic gift.
I took my husband, Dave, and our children Landen (10) and Caroline (8) to see The Yellow Boat yesterday. Recommended for ages 7+, the audience was decidedly adult, likely, because this was heavier fare than the productions we expect from Childsplay. I did not share the subject matter of The Yellow Boat with my family ahead of time.
Both children enjoyed the early scenes highlighting Benjamin’s high energy and creative spirit. At one point Landen leaned over and said, “I like this.”
Early on, we learn that Benjamin was born with hemophilia. We witness his parents try to maintain normalcy for their child while protecting him. Most parents can relate to the comical scene where Benjamin’s parents seek out the best school for him.
Concern sets in, as Benjamin is increasingly fatigued. No one knows why and poor Benjamin is subjected to a battery of tests and an array of pokes and prodding. The audience and Benjamin’s parents soon learn that Benjamin tests positive for the virus that causes AIDS. Set in the early 1980’s, a time we knew little about AIDS and fear was at an all-time high. Abandoned by their friends, the trio becomes isolated and Benjamin withdraws. His frightened mother forbids Eddy, Benjamin’s best friend, from seeing him. Soon school is a distant memory and Benjamin spends his days and nights confined to a hospital bed while doctors search for a cure.
The one bright spot being the aptly named, Joy (Debra K. Stevens), who is not a medical doctor but the Wellness Specialist tasked with finding “the part that works.” This role struck me as a part Robin Williams would have relished. Stevens indeed brought joy to the stage and to Benjamin with her backpack full of tricks designed to help her patients process their feelings.
As Benjamin’s condition worsens, you can’t help but imagine yourself or your child in a similar position. At this point, Landen leaned over and said, “I hate this.”
The aforementioned Eddy eventually does come to the hospital. He is full of questions. Are you afraid? Are you in pain? Do you cry? What’s it like to know? He asks the questions we all have surrounding death.
As The Yellow Boat sets sail, you can hear the sniffles in the audience. As the play ends, the actors come to the front of the stage and a few have misty eyes. One can’t help but feel the impact of this story of love and life and death.
As we exited, Caroline said, “I almost cried because I think he died.” I told her he had indeed died and we all commented on how sad that was. My children are too young to know what AIDS is, Landen asked and we told him in the car. Dave led the kids in a conversation about the different kinds of theater experiences. We all agreed we liked musicals better but if the purpose of theater is to make you feel then The Yellow Boat accomplished that. As Dave said, “it was life.”