- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 15, 2006

Al Gore would approve of the Clock family. They don’t take up much space and are recyclers par excellence. The Clocks — father Pod (Harry A. Winter), mother Homily (Kathryn Kelley) and daughter Arrietty (Janel Miley) — are the minuscule heroes of Mary Norton’s “The Borrowers” novels, two of which have been adapted delightfully by Charles Way for the theater. Imagination Stage’s production, directed by Janet Stanford, captures the pleasures great and small of the series, which has been captivating young adult readers since the novels appeared in the 1950s.

The books — and the stage adaptation — play into our fascination with tiny creatures and dollhouse-size worlds. The Clocks live underneath the floorboards of an English manor house in the 1860s. Their people are called “borrowers” because they scrounge around for everything they need from the “human beans” who tromp around above their heads. James Kronzer’s set charmingly captures the found treasures that make up the Clock home — postage stamps for framed portraits, champagne corks and spools for chairs, matchsticks for table legs and a cigar-box armoire.

Both Mr. Kronzer and Miss Stanford seem to be having a marvelous time toying with scale — intrusions from the real-size world are seen as giant screwdrivers and other implements that poke ominously down from the Clock’s ceiling, and perfectly detailed tiny marionettes are used when the borrowers encounter human beings.

As the play opens, Homily scurries around, trying to make a comfy home — table scraps and onion peels form the basis of the family’s meals — and is a bit grand, putting on the airs of a lady of the manor. Pod is a more pragmatic sort. As the main borrower, he frets about being able to provide for his family without being seen by the human occupants of the house.

Thirteen-year-old Arrietty has no such worries.

Vivacious and smart, Arrietty spends the days writing in her diary and dreaming of a day when she can start borrowing and climb out of the underground and into the world of light. When Pod finally allows her to join his scavenger runs, Arrietty fearlessly makes herself known to a Boy (Ryan Fearson) who is recovering at the house from scarlet fever caught in India.

Their presence discovered, not only by the Boy but by the small-critters-hating cook Mrs. Driver (Sandra L. Murphy), the Clocks run for their lives. They flee the house for an adjoining field, which is like a continent to the Clocks. Hoping to find their long-lost relatives, the Clocks wrestle with nature and a host of challenges and find out that a living in safe secret is not all it’s cracked up to be.

“The Borrowers,” on the surface, is an alluring fantasy about a Lilliputian world. But it also can be seen as a microcosm of a child growing up and stretching out beyond the world of her parents. The novels also portray the last vestiges of the once-great British Empire, which was passing away in favor of an era both uncertain and exciting.

Arrietty represents the promising future, and Miss Miley’s performance brims with newfound freedom and an infectious sense of discovery. Miss Kelley’s Homily is at first all in a dither over nonexistent worries and the procurement of materialistic goods — but once in the wild, she displays unexpected courage and wisdom.

Mr. Winter is the very picture of paternal patience, and Ricardo Frederick Evans winningly plays the borrower Spiller as if he were a Lost Boy from “Peter Pan” — only infinitely more mysterious and resourceful.

“The Borrowers” books are the kind that young readers can lose themselves in on a summer’s day, and the stage production has the same ability to draw you deeply and magically into a small world of infinite possibilities.

***

WHAT: “The Borrowers,” adapted by Charles Way from the novels by Mary Norton

WHERE: Imagination Stage, 4908 Auburn Ave., Bethesda

WHEN: 10:30 a.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 3:30 p.m. Saturdays, 12:30 and 3:30 p.m. Sundays. Through Aug. 13.

TICKETS: $10 to $15

PHONE: 301/280-1660

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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