Eugene Weekly : Theater : 7.31.08

Kipling Served Up for Kids
Mad Duckling’s Jungle Book
By Anna Grace

Armed with a three-year-old, a five-year-old, snacks and a blanket, I set myself up on a slope at Amazon Park to see UO’s Mad Duckling Theatre present The Jungle Book. They have a strong group of actors this year, and I was looking forward to lots of silly animals. Somehow I’d forgotten that Rudyard Kipling was involved.

The original Jungle Book is Kipling’s very long series of moralistic stories played out by a variety of animals in the jungles of India. Tim Kelly’s adaptation for stage centers on the stories of Mowgli the “man-cub” (the delightful Annie Rose Favreau), who has been living in the jungle apart from humans since birth. Mowgli and his animal pals are threatened by the clever tiger Shere Khan (Jessie Ryan at her feline best), who intends not only to eat Mowgli but also to upset the power balance of the jungle. Can Mowgli and his animal buddies stop her?

“I saw a tiger and a bear and silly monkeys!” my three-year-old told anyone who would listen. She was not bothered by jungle animals engaging in British-style debates about the nature of good leadership that clearly trash the enfranchisement of the working classes during the Second Industrial Revolution. She just likes seeing Andrew Barton in monkey ears. And honestly, who doesn’t? 

So despite preachy lessons about facing your fears and the negative effects of littering, the talented cast managed to keep the audience’s attention with big chase scenes and frequent audience participation. Steve Wehmeier has a wonderful presence as the Great Wolf, and the kids loved energetic Annie Rose Favreau as Mowgli. Jermaine Golden made a memorable cameo as an expressive tree. There is plenty of action and a hysterical slow-motion fight scene, and you will love the silly monkeys. 

While this is not the best production I’ve seen from Mad Duckling, it is certainly worth the price of admission and the bag of trail mix you may want to bring along.

The Jungle Book runs July 31 and Aug. 1-2 and 5-9. For tix, call 346-4192.