Dragon's Eye Theatre, creators of past Fringe shows A Mystery? and Seek and Hide, return with Follow Me Through the Gates. An adventure for youngsters of all ages, the show was written specifically for the comfy Independence Branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia, a quintessential neighborhood library tucked among the museums and businesses on Seventh Street near Market.
The titlular gates are part of a colorful mural by Chinese artist Jingxiang Liang on the building's back wall, which inspired the play's events. Stephanie N. Walters's script sets the action in the room and in the painting. As librarian Ms. Layla (Aneesa Neilbauer) explains, "Someone will be transported through the gates to the place they need to find the most." She expects that person will be disgruntled teen Ty (Amy Boehly), but the person who enters the mural is one of the play's many delightful surprises.
Kishia Nixon plays Azsori, Ty's classmate, who's been befriended by Ty's grandfather (Jeff Wu). He teaches her chess, in which Ty has no interest, and Chinese proverbs, which confuse Ty and are "a giant reminder that I'm a bad Chinese." What she hasn't learned yet is that her grandfather is her "link to a different world." The cast's warm, sincere, and flexible performances keep us all involved. (Kids' spontaneity requires lots of quick ad-libbing!)
For the little ones
Director Suzana Berger recognizes that kids love to interact. Younger children — ages three to six, at the first performance — sit close and follow the action all through the library, helping the characters find one another. They build moon gates (with a little adult assistance) and happily march through the rows of bookshelves.
The simple adventure, many story interludes, and positive messages about friendship, individuality, and family are aimed at the tykes, but we older kids can appreciate them too. Grandfather's wise sayings, such as "Teachers open the door, but you must walk through it yourself," are good reminders for us all.
That we're surrounded by stories in books as well as enchanted by Dragon's Eye's tale makes the point of Follow Me Through the Gates: "There is a story for everything."