Another year has come and is nearly gone, and the performance of "A Year with Frog and Toad" is carrying a hefty load on its shoulders into 2017. The Arden Theatre Company’s third presentation of the play bears more significance and relevance than it ever has, and co-lead actor Jeffrey Coon admits the tenor is different this time around. The play serves foundational values and principles to children that also function as critical reminders to adults in what has been an emotionally exhausting year for America.
"A Year with Frog and Toad" is the third coming of one of the Arden’s most treasured children’s theater productions. The story unveils the budding and unlikely friendship of the cheerful Frog and the grumpy Toad through four seasons, seeding life lessons along the way. The first performance made its way to the Arden in 2004, a year that featured flip phones, the dawn of commercial broadband internet, George Bush and Fantasia as the reigning "American Idol." Lead actors Coon and Ben Dibble did not have children of their own, much like many of the parents participating in this year’s show. Speaking with Coon, being a parent changes your perspective on things. “We have the responsibility to take care of our children and to do right by them at all times.” Being responsible for another person means giving a large part of yourself to someone who needs it. The importance of children’s theater is setting those values early, and "A Year with Frog and Toad" does that for its youthful audience.
“How do we take care of each other as parents and as members of the community?” Coon proposed in consideration of what makes children’s theater relevant to both kids and adults. “We don’t always get along together but we do what we can to do well by each other.” The characters in "A Year with Frog and Toad" observe their world and its changes through the seasons, sharing their wonder with Toad to remedy his disenchantment. Children are as much a part of the community as their parents are. They can contribute much like the characters do: with kindness and love. Arden Theatre doesn’t talk down to kids with their children’s theater. Instead, they empower their young audience.
Coon says now that he’s older with his own children, the play has more significance entering 2017. “What does it mean to have a really good friend? How does that friend take care of you and how do you take care of them?” He concluded, “Frog and Toad are very polite to each other. It’s stylized, but there’s something refreshing and soothing about watching a group of individuals be kind and want to take care of each other, especially given the experiences we’ve cumulatively had this year.”
"A Year with Frog and Toad," directed by Whit MacLaughlin, is currently running at The Arden Theatre through Jan. 29. Tickets range from $20-$36. For more information, visitardentheatre.org.