Summer Stock Austin’s “Tortoise and Hare” a moving lesson in tolerance, self-acceptance
by Nicole Villalpando
Summer Stock Austin’s family musical “Tortoise and Hare” is really fun. You’ll be rocking to the reggae, calypso and rap beats of the music and lyrics by Allen Robertson, of the Biscuit Brothers. Robertson and Damon Brown wrote the book, and Robertson directs the show.
It’s a definite twist on the classic story, giving it much more depth. While you might think of this as a children’s fable, this production really is for the whole family.
Kama (Lena Owens) is the leader of the tortoises, a species of smart, thoughtful creatures who work hard cultivating gardens. Jackson (Patrick Regner) is the leader of the hares, a species of reckless teenagers who are all about looks. They have long raided the tortoises’ gardens, but now they’ve decided to take over the tortoises’ lands. When the hares arrive, Jackson cannot believe that Kama is their leader. After all, she’s a girl.
Kama stands up to his threats and challenges him to a race. The winner will get control of the tortoises’ land.
After the hares leave, Kama begins to have serious doubts, but then the hare Harper (Kalie Naftzger) returns to bring back the book she took from Kama’s brother Simon (Donelvan Thigpen). Harper doesn’t know how to read, but she’s curious and she’s also tired of Jackson putting her down as a girl and only talking about her beauty.
Harper joins team tortoise and trains Kama to try to make her run as fast as a hare. Soon, it becomes clear, that while Kama is faster than she was, she’ll never be as fast as a hare. Harper, meanwhile, has been learning to read and has the idea that all the tortoises can help Kama by doing research so that Kama will know the obstacles she will face and the best route she should take.
Of course, you know the end of the story. The tortoise wins because “slow and steady wins the race,” but there’s more to this story. It’s about a friendships between rivals who take a pause to see one another and themselves. It’s a great lesson in era of racial tensions.
The costuming is smart with the hares wearing stylish clothes in grays, blacks, whites and reds. The tortoises use earth tones in their clothing and wear backpacks for shells. The set uses multiple levels of black stage risers to represent the hills and beach areas of this land.
The cast of high school and college students are poised and professional, while being endearing and relatable. This productions does not feel like the actors have only had the material for three weeks, while doing two other plays: “Guys & Dolls” and “Into the Woods.”
You don’t have to have a kid to go see this production. In fact, most of the audience on Friday morning was not children. Instead it was teens and college students and their parents. You just have to be ready to enjoy many catchy tunes with life lessons.