An aviator crashes his plane in the Sahara Desert with only an eight-day water supply.

His survival depends on fixing the plane. Then out of nowhere appears a boy with a story to tell. The boy's nickname is the "Little Prince," and he immediately asks the aviator to draw him a sheep. He doesn't ask for water or a ride out of the desert; the Little Prince wants a drawing. 

The setup sounds outlandish, but it will oddly make sense when Playmakers of Baton Rouge opens "The Little Prince" on Friday, Aug. 23, in McKinley Middle Magnet School's Lynn Whitfield Theatre for the Performing Arts.

Performances originally were scheduled for LSU's Reilly Theatre, but that stage is undergoing repairs from water damage.

"We're hoping to be back in the Reilly for our next show, 'Frozen,' " Executive Director Todd Henry said. "But McKinley Magnet's space is beautiful, and it's a great place for us to stage 'The Little Prince,' which teaches us so many lessons."

One of those lessons is handed not only to the aviator but to the audience in the beginning sequence.

"Here you have a plane crash in the middle of the desert, and what does the Little Prince ask the aviator to do?" Henry asked. "He wants the aviator to draw a picture. His interest is in the magic of imagination and the beauty of art in this world."       

The play is based on the 1943 novella by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, a real-life pioneering aviator who also was a French aristocrat, writer and poet. "The Little Prince" has since been translated into 300 languages and dialects, selling more than 140 million copies worldwide.

Yet modern audiences are somehow unfamiliar with the story.

"A lot of the kids had never read it before auditioning for the play," Henry said. "And a lot of people just have never heard of it."  

So, Playmakers' staging of the stage adaptation by Rick Cummins and John Scoullar will recount the story for fans while introducing it to newcomers.

"It's also a musical," said Nina McLain, who is directing the show's cast of 36 kids. "We have a large ensemble, and we're using it to tell the story, much like a Greek ensemble."

Jake Pennington, a 10-year-old fifth grader at St. George Catholic School, plays the Little Prince, who proceeds to tell the Aviator, played by Emory Gischler, 15, his life story during the eight days the Aviator is repairing the plane. Gischler is a junior at University High School.

The stories include that of the Little Prince's earlier days of happening upon a rose, played by Madeline Golden, a 13-year-old eighth grader at St. George. The Little Prince falls in love with The Rose, and though she reciprocates, she doesn't understand the concept of true love.

"She's full of drama," Golden said. "He says that she's empty. She wants to be the center of his world, and she demands all of his attention."

But the Little Prince also realizes he's at fault, saying he did not know how to love The Rose. So he leaves on a journey, which brings him to six planets, meeting key characters along the way.

Each character shares a life lesson, including The Lamplighter, played by Lily Kathryn Watts, a 12-year-old seventh grader at Parkview Baptist School.

"She talks about how she's tired of her job," Watts said. "She's a faithful old woman, but her joy is decreasing. She was happy doing her job at first, but as the years pass, she's feeling angry and tired and sad. Her job isn't fun anymore, and she wants to talk about it."

The Lamplighter's story also has given Watts insight into a world she has yet to enter.

"It's the kind of story that kids might not understand, but adults will be able to relate to it," she said. "There are a lot of stories in 'The Little Prince' that adults will understand."

And it's these stories that Saint-Exupery uses to remind adults to embrace the magic of childhood while encouraging children to hold on to it.

The Little Prince's stories certainly make the Aviator see the world in a different way.      

“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly,” the Little Prince tells him. “What is essential is invisible to the eye.”


'The Little Prince'

Playmakers' first production of the 2019-20 season

WHEN: 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 23; 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 24; 2 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 25; 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 30, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 1

WHERE: Lynn Whitfield Theatre for the Performing Arts, McKinley Middle Magnet School, 1550 Eddie Robinson Sr. Drive

ADMISSION: $15

TICKETS/INFORMATION: (225) 578-6996 or playmakersbr.org

Email Robin Miller at romiller@theadvocate.com

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