Imagination grows in 'Garden'

Children have wonderful imaginations.

In a perfect world, they always would use them purely for fun. In the real world, they often use them as escape routes from the unbearable.

Both are true in "Lily Plants a Garden," being staged this week by Kansas University's Theatre for Young People.

The play, written by Jose Cruz González, follows a lonely, impoverished young girl who dramatizes a fantasy about her life using puppets in order to feel safe. In her make-believe realm, there are two races: Wulumans and Zobeings. Early on, a Wuluman baby named Lily gets abandoned on the steps of a Zobeing couple, who raise the girl as their own daughter.

But everyone in the Zobeing neighborhood shuns Lily and her parents for being different. To cope, Lily removes the symbol of her race - a bluzulu seed necklace - from around her neck.

"She buries it to get rid of it and cries over the seed that's been buried, and that starts a garden," says Aubree Bowen, a KU senior from Augusta who portrays the leading role. "It's a garden started by all these mixed emotions she has."

Bowen says children will relate to the play's treatment of issues like bullying, being different and finding a safe, hopeful place. They're also likely to enjoy the puppets the young girl uses to bring her fantasy to life.

Los Angeles-based playwright González visited Lawrence recently to work with the cast. He told them he had already starting writing "Lily" when he attended a theater conference in New York that happened to fall on 9/11. As he walked around the city in the aftermath of the attacks, digesting the horror of it all, he wondered how children would deal with the situation.

"Some of that experience seeped into 'Lily,'" says Theatre for Young People director Jeanne Klein, who's directing the KU production. "The play is about how children survive (traumatic situations). How do they deal with it?

Past Event

"Lily Plants a Garden"

  • Saturday, February 10, 2007, 10 a.m. to 11 a.m.
  • Kansas University, Kansas University, Lawrence
  • 5+ / $5 - $10

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"The way that Jose does it is that children enter into their imaginations and they act out stories and they dramatize what's going on in their lives to solve these problems and to figure out how they can cope."

A somber mood doesn't dominate the show, however. Klein says González' script contains lots of humor, from nonsense words to a pair of whimsical puppet characters named Miss Beatrice (a ladybug) and Rosey (a rose flower) who live in Lily's garden and provide comic relief.

"I think he's done a great job of balancing. It's not like, 'Oh gee, we're totally depressed,'" Klein says. "In the play, when Lily's parents are fighting, she cries, but it's her tears that water and nurture the garden and make the garden grow.

"And then later on she cries again, but this time it's tears of laughter. So he's showing that tears are good for cleaning out our feelings and for nurturing and watering our gardens."

KU's show marks only the third production of "Lily" - the first by a university, which is what prompted González' campus visit.

"It was really great working with Jose," Bowen says. "He gave us a lot of insight to the characters and to why he wrote the play and the purpose of the show."

Performances for Douglas County school children will be today through Friday. The Saturday and Sunday matinees are open to the public. Klein says "Lily" is most appropriate for children 6 and up, and offers a positive moral.

"The biggest message in this play is that we need to hope - hope for a better world," she says. "That's what Lily's garden is; Lily plants hope."

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