You Smiled at the Same Time as Me

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This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA theater for KCRW.

Stop what you're doing, wake up your inner child, grab any other children in your life, and go buy tickets to 24th Street Theatre’s production of Man Covets Bird.

No really, you need to see this show - I know it's a show for kids . . . but even if you're way beyond juice boxes and recess - this show is worth your time.

Now, if you're like me you have a complicated relationship to children's theater. On the one hand, you appreciate how important theater is for young, developing minds. What better place to work out this complicated world with all these inscrutable emotions than in the theater? But on the other hand . . . well, how to say this? Most theater for young audiences is just so bad. Either it falls into the trap of talking down to children and presenting them a narrative that's so simple and over-played that you instinctively recoil - or it tries to be too clever by half and plays to the parents: missing the kids altogether.

Playwright Finegan Kruckemeyer dodges these pitfalls by crafting a moving, lyrical narrative about a young man who finds a bird and goes off to the big city in search of grown up adventures: like having a job without losing your happiness. For the kids, it's an odyssey into their future, tackling the big unfamiliar world as they grow older. For adults, we can't help but see the play through different eyes: that monotonous button-pushing job might be a little closer to home. The magic of the play is that it recognizes its audience as both children and adults. There is no scary villain like the big, bad wolf. Instead, the obstacles are isolation, losing one's way, and the challenge of saying goodbye. Those are as poignant to an 8-year old as an 80-year old - just in very different ways.

24th Street’s production is as sophisticated as the script. When you walk into the theater it's an empty stage: no set, no props - just a couple of small boxes, a guitar, a keyboard, and a clarinet on the margins. But once the play starts the world transforms. First, through the two remarkable and lovable actors Andrew Huber and Leeav Sofer who play the man and the bird - and those instruments. They enchant us with their wonderful, open presence and their gorgeous singing voices. Once their journey begins, the blank walls of the theater come to life with simple line-drawn animations that turn a stack of blocks into a loving mother and an empty wall into a glowing cityscape. It's theater magic.

Now, as accessible as this play is, it's probably not for the very little ones. It's being billed for seven-year-olds and up, but I sat next to an amazed, precocious five-year-old who loved it. It's not scary but it is a lot of words, so use your best judgment.

Just don't miss it.

Man Covets Bird plays at the 24th Street Theater near downtown through November 22.

This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA theater for KCRW.

Run time: 70 minutes without an intermission.

Photo: Leeav Sofer and Andrew Huber in Man Covets Bird (Cooper Bates)