Big Idea Theatre's production of The Jungle Book has eco-friendly animal puppets and other modern reinterpretations of the classic.
The Jungle Book
When Big Idea Theatre approached Davis-raised playwright Briandaniel Oglesby about adapting Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, the first thing Oglesby did was ditch his memories of the animated Disney film.
Instead, Oglesby returned to the source, playing down the British Colonial aspects of Kipling’s text, mixing in masks and puppets, and adding contemporary elements—like a visit to a modern city, where everyone is talking on a smartphone while urgently in transit. Oglesby focuses on Mowgli (the wolf boy) as a perpetual outsider, in the jungle or in town.
Oglesby also brought a lot of wit and insight to the project. For instance, Baloo the Bear awakens from a dream and announces, “Exit, pursued by … Me!”— a one-liner that anyone who’s studied Shakespeare will recognize as a paraphrase of the famous stage direction from The Winter’s Tale.
Rachel Malin’s colorful puppets and masks are constructed with repurposed and recycled materials. Jungle plants are made of plastic water bottles, painted green. A buzzard puppet utilizes a black umbrella and red clay flowerpots. A huge python is made from a long, flexible plastic air duct. And on and on.
There’s quite a bit of action, including a climactic battle between Mowgli (played by Kane Chai) and the scheming tiger Shere Khan (Ryan Snyder). But we didn’t see any youngsters leaving the theater in distress during the scary parts.
All told, Big Idea has crafted a thoughtful-yet-active and entertaining all-ages family show, with enough cleverly inserted jokes to keep the grownups on board.