Children experiencing everyday anxiety and stress have a fluffy new role model. With her fuchsia skin and sky blue ponytail, Petunia (creator Laura Kay Clark) is a sweet relatable “Everychild.” Chatting with her friend Pumpkin Duck (puppeteer John Pickup; voice T.J. Bolden) she is excitedly picking out a jacket for her first day of school. But before she can eat her chocolate chip pancakes, the Anxiety Monster (Christopher Isolano) arrives with his alluring backup troupe. He conjures images of mean teachers and unfriendly classmates until all she wants to do is get back into bed. Fortunately Mom (Renee Titus), who has regular doubts of her own, comes to the rescue with a series of mindfulness exercises. Petunia is only too grateful to learn new skills and even experiences the joy of passing them on to a new friend (Amanda Spencer).
After regrettably having to cancel in-person performances for safety reasons, New Ohio Theatre has made Petunia’s Big Day available On Demand. The Party Claw co-production is warm from the first note, with the cast greeting us at the door and leading us through the auditorium accompanied by upbeat piano. The book by Laura Kay Clark is based on her own Petunia’s Playhouse, an award-winning web series she created to give young children tools to better cope with the stress brought on by the COVID pandemic. With the shift to an online format, this lively show can now be experienced by families around the country.
On Safari, the video streaming was very stable and the audio well mixed with just a slightly muted mic on Petunia. While some of the opportunities for interactivity with younger audience members has been lost, the ability to see the details of the puppets (designed by Puppet Kitchen artist Eric Wright with additional puppets by designer Myra G. Reavis) and the fabulous touches in Petunia’s bedroom are improved from the cameras’ vantage points. As directed by Christina Rose Ashby, Petunia is in a window above the tiled stage so that she and her human cast-mates can see eye to eye. The brightly colored bedroom set designed by Reavis with its drawn-on doors and bed frame build on the musical’s storybook feel. The company of six (Puppeteer Julia Fein also lends a hand… BOTH) ably delivers the serviceable songs by Billy Recce. And there are still moments when a child at home can breathe along with the heroine or warn her of approaching Tummy Butterflies.
Aimed at theater-goers aged 6-12, Petunia’s Big Day is childlike, but not childish. The demonstrated tools are practical and easy to apply. It contains an important reminder that the practice of self-care isn’t only essential when there’s a virus circling. The common events depicted may even stimulate conversation about how to manage other uncomfortable emotions.
Running less than half an hour, the production is streaming On Demand through February 6. Tickets are $25 per household and can be purchased at https://watch.eventive.org/newohiotheatre/play/61d8bc1cc9d1230044fa7ff2. You’ll have 7 days from the time of purchase to start watching, and 24 hours to complete your viewing.