Theater Review: ‘Danny, King of the Basement' at Seattle Children's Theater

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(L-R) Quinn Armstrong, Hana Lass and Ben McFadden (photo by Chris Bennion)

A touching and uplifting story is being told at the Seattle Children’s Theater, this month, as they mount a new production, Danny, King of the Basement by David S. Craig. Though the play was first produced in 2001, it loses no relevance to the plight of children who are forced to move from place to place due to all kinds of parental upheavals. Indeed, due to the economic times, there is much more of that upheaval going on now than ten years ago.

While the topic of homelessness or location instability is a challenging one to present to children, SCT does what it does best: educate through enchanting and accessible theatrical production. An added bonus here is that children can see a coping technique used by the main character, Danny, that they can adapt and use for themselves under any trying situation.

Danny (an engaging and smartly silly Quinn Armstrong) is a boy of uncertain age, somewhere around 10 to 12, who we first see as almost his mother’s keeper: he knows how to take any bus to any location and keeps the money safe, even from his own mother’s apparent spendthrift ways. We also see him downplay the most difficult of circumstances through mental games that keep him challenged and upbeat. He uses those games to quickly make new friends and even convince them that their own circumstances are less daunting.

Mother (Deborah King) has led a sketchy life, which apparently has meant moving Danny into unpleasant homes (we see them “escaping” from possibly an abusive boyfriend), and promising Danny stability and then not following through. Note: the parents in this play are not the most appropriate or helpful, and that may be an additional conversation needed about the play.

But Mom has promised that this move will be a long-term one, into a basement apartment, where two other children Danny’s age also live. Penelope (Hana Lass) is a supercilious brat, whose life is also in turmoil with a recent break-up of her parents and whose mother practically ignores all her emotional needs, and Angelo (Ben McFadden) is tormented by a father who is literally a dinosaur.  (See what I mean about the parent figures?)

Still, as Danny makes friends and creates a cohesive connection among them, the audience bonds with them and can appreciate Danny’s talents and his ability to imagine solutions to his difficulties. He’s so good at that that he also solves some of Penelope and Angelo’s difficulties or explains things to them that have baffled them.

Rita Giomi directs this seventy minute gem, with strong support from a terrific outdoor set (the front of the houses) from Carol Wolfe Clay, clever lighting from Andrew D. Smith and a fully-packed sound design from Chris R. Walker.

No need to worry about a grim and downhearted topic, here. While the play could produce some challenging conversations, everyone, including parents, can have a wonderful time getting to know these kids. The actors do a great job of portraying them, and the script is up-to-date and crisp and fun.

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