Shows at Children’s Theatre of Charlotte usually contain at least one line that applies to every one of us, or to the 9-year-olds we were and didn’t want to be. It comes midway through “The Invisible Boy” from the title character, who inhabits a corner in Mrs. Carlotti’s classroom.
Brian’s happy when drawing dragons and aliens, unhappy that he has no one with whom to share his art and unsure what to do about that. As he watches classmates tease a Korean-American newcomer, he reflects, “Not being seen is better than not being seen nicely by others.”
How many introverts have lived by that principle, while boisterous extroverts sucked all the oxygen out of a room?
Christopher Parks, who adapted the book by Trudy Ludwig, has written this play for all the quiet people and any of the loud ones who stop talking long enough to listen.
Both the script and the songs he wrote with composer Josh Totora provide a first-step solution: Make one friend. He or she may lead to others or may not. Your talents may be fully revealed to the world or known by only a few. But if you speak up, however softly or in whatever medium, someone will hear. Director Adam Burke puts that point across gently in this bouncy production.
Hannah Crowell’s set consists mostly of vast blank squares on which Brian’s illustrations can be projected. The implication is clear: We have to write or draw our own stories, because no one will do that for us. Brian (played with appealing winsomeness by Adrian Thornburg, who gets the only solo bow) must empower himself; his supportive mom and kindly teacher can take him only so far.
Mrs. Carlotti’s class consists of archetypes we’ve all met: The preening social butterfly whose wealth wows other kids; the clown who leaps atop desks to sing and finds single entendres in every potentially gross joke; the ballerina who twirls and wears eye-grabbing clothes; the rule-obsessed kid who gets panic attacks when events differ from expectations.
What we realize, as we get to know them, is that they’re all afraid of invisibility. They beg for attention by bestowing social favors, bossing others, making grotesque sounds, and playing air guitar; when people stop looking at them, however briefly, they recede from the collective consciousness. Their unexpressed fear is that they, too, could become invisible boys and girls.
Mrs. Carlotti embraces them with their flaws and foibles, as a good teacher must. Because this world premiere is part of Children’s Theatre’s ongoing Kindness Project, she hands out assignments that have as much to do with compassion as creative writing. My distant memories of elementary school make me wish more teachers followed her example.
“The Invisible Boy”
When: Through Nov. 24 at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Saturdays, 2 and 4 p.m. Sundays. Also 7:30 p.m. Friday on Nov. 1 and 22. Sensory-friendly performance at 4 p.m. Nov. 10.
Where: ImaginOn, 300 E. Seventh St.
Running Time: 60 minutes with no intermission.
Details: 704-973-2828 or ctcharlotte.org.
This story is part of an Observer underwriting project with the Thrive Campaign for the Arts, supporting arts journalism in Charlotte.
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