‘The Yellow Boat’ shows a vibrant world, love and loss

Noah Moore

It’s been said true discovery only arrives by seeing the world in different eyes. The world is a blank slate, waiting to be shaded by our emotions and some are more colorful than others. One of the most vibrant is that of Benjamin, the eight-year-old protagonist in WKU Department of Theatre and Dance’s production of “The Yellow Boat,” directed by Colin Waters.

Based on a true story, “The Yellow Boat,” written by David Saar, tells the story of a family of three– Mother, Father, and Benjamin. Benjamin often describes his world in colors, transcending a blank space into a work of art. The three often enjoy singing the Scandinavian folktale about three boats — one red, one blue and one yellow, the latter which Benjamin always insists on being. When he becomes diagnosed with hemophilia and, later AIDS, his adventurous world is flipped on its head as he struggles to pursue joy.

Told through a hybrid of representational and presentational storytelling, this show balanced comedy and melodrama exceptionally and had the audience in tears. One boy’s emotions color an otherwise bland world into one of daring sword fights, intergalactic trips, and inner body escapades one color at a time.

The show itself had a prodigious vision that helped develop the show into more than a children’s story. It, unlike your neighborhood production of Dr. Seuss, had emotional depth and visceral storytelling. The set, costumes, and lighting worked well in conjunction to create the symbolic use of color within the show, as it carried a lot of weight to the plot. The ensemble of actors was a bona fide representation of this narrative. Though the show was presented on a thrust stage, all sides of the audience could be engaged due to to the largely four-dimensional manner in which the show was presented.

Leading the show’s acting ensemble was Benjamin, played by Austin Higgins. Higgins had the perfect demeanor for a child and had great emotional variance. His parents, played by Reagan Stovenour and Connor Keef, were the calm to Benjamin’s storm and played their characters just subtly enough to make Benjamin’s stand out.

The true tour-de-force, though, came in the ensemble. Played by Cameron Lane, Hunter Mayfield, Piper Keusch and Ivy Sauder, the four had a wide range of roles from doctors prescribing medicine to children hitting one another with bats. Audience members could find the ensemble running through the aisles, out of the theatre, and around the stage at any moment. Their versatility enhanced the show’s connectivity to the audience.

Technically speaking, the show’s design was well-executed. The lighting appropriately changed colors with the changing feelings in Benjamin’s head. The scenic design was a white barren stage with various white blocks, to resemble the blank space of life to be shaded by various colors.

Much like the set, the costumes of the ensemble were white scrubs– sterile and plain, yet oddly effective. The main trio were clad in primary colors, but the most interesting costume came for the small character of Joy. With a tie dye lab coat and colorful pants, her juxtaposition with the other members of the ensemble was apparent. The plainness of this and the set helped make the mind of Benjamin stand out even further and was a masterstroke from director Colin Waters.

As the show came to a close, Benjamin’s hands reached for the sky, as a similar strum of the piano finished his story, while his legacy remains extant. For, the truth of the matter is our time on earth is limited, so one should color it as they want to.