‘The Girl Who Swallowed a Cactus’ Is a Fantasy that Aims to Change Reality

 In Culture, Event

The idea of kids trying to save the world from the mess adults have made of it is relevant now more than ever, and Metro Theater Company is exploring this theme in a new work, “The Girl Who Swallowed a Cactus.” It’s a cautionary tale about our impact on the environment in the guise of a magical realism adventure story according to Julia Flood, artistic director for Metro Theater Company.

Flood says Broadway playwright Eric Coble, with whom she has worked frequently over the past 20 years, approached her with the idea for the play, which is based on flights of fancy from his childhood spent on Native American reservations in New Mexico.

'The Girl Who Swallowed a Cactus' Is a Fantasy that Aims to Change Reality

Image courtesy of Dan Donovan.

In the play, a group of five children is approached by a talking, truck-driving coyote and whisked off on an adventure where they meet a variety of animals who share their stories and bring the landscape to life.

Metro Theater submitted the work to the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Art’s New Visions/New Voices conference, a biennial workshop in Washington, D.C., that develops works for young audiences and families. The play was chosen for the program and was workshopped there by Coble, Flood and actor Tia Shearer Bassett in April 2018.

While the fantasy element is compelling, what makes the work even more unique is the fact that there’s only one actor onstage portraying all of the characters. “[Eric] wanted to see if he could write an epic-scale story that could be told by one story teller,” Flood says.

'The Girl Who Swallowed a Cactus' Is a Fantasy that Aims to Change Reality

Image from the Sept. 28 performance of “The Girl Who Swallowed a Cactus,” courtesy of Jennifer Lin.

The set, created by Metro’s resident designer David Blake, is made from salvaged items that would have otherwise ended up in a landfill. The junk is strewn about seemingly haphazardly on the stage, and the actor uses them to create puppets of each character. It’s a literal example of the set being a character in and of itself.

“The Girl Who Swallowed a Cactus” has already been performed in several St. Louis-area schools, Flood says, and free public performances take place Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 12 and 13, at the Missouri History Museum and Saturday, Nov. 9, at the Central Branch of the St. Louis Public Library. In the spring of 2020, the work will be performed at the Kennedy Center’s Family Theater by actor Tia Shearer Bassett.

Image of Julia Flood, Tia Shearer Bassett, Eric Coble and Jamie McKittrick, courtesy of Dan Donovan.

Featured image courtesy of Jennifer Lin.

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