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A story with a capacious heart

Flora & Ulysses at the Olympia Family Theater

From left: Korja Giles, Ryan Martin Holmberg and Ted Ryle. Photo credit: David Nowitz, courtesy Olympia Family Theater

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Flora & Ulysses, based on the children's book of the same name by Kate DiCamillo, is a children's story that appeals to people of all ages. With phrases like "a capacious heart" and "loneliness makes us do terrible things," and such sophisticated concepts as temporary blindness caused by trauma, and being a self-declared cynic as a way of hiding insecurity, the wit and wisdom of this play is beyond the grasp of many children. On the other hand, it has the virtue of not talking down to children, who might be wiser than we give them credit for. Plus, the wild antics of the actors on stage at Olympia Family Theater appeal to all children and the child in all of us.

Flora Belle Buckman (Korja Giles) is a 10-year-old girl whose parents are recently divorced. She loves comic books and wishes she could see thought bubbles above her head like in comics. Taking this clue as a guiding principle, scenic designer Martin Lee and scenic engineer David Nowitz filled the set with ads from the back pages of comic book and projected thought bubbles on that wall above the stage.

Flora rescues a squirrel that has been sucked up by a Ulysses vacuum cleaner and names the squirrel after the vacuum cleaner. Comic book super heroes get their powers because of some catastrophic accident, and Ulysses the squirrel is no exception; he gets super powers from being sucked up in the vacuum cleaner. His super powers include the ability to fly and write poetry, which he types out on Flora's mother's old manual typewriter. Her mother, Phyllis (Rynelle Bircher), is not a good writer; Ulysses is a better poet. Phyllis wants to get rid of Ulysses; she and Flora argue about it, and Flora decides to leave her mother and go live with her father, George (Ted Ryle).

Giles portrays Flora as loveable and sweet but sad and lonely. She subtly and wonderfully portrays the complexity of this character, a smart and loving child whose world has been rocked by the divorce of her parents.

Ulysses the squirrel is a hand puppet manipulated by Ryan Martin Holmberg who, OFT patrons will recall, was the puppeteer for Blubber the fish in Fishnapped. Holmberg's wide-eyed expressions, jerky movements and histrionic pronouncements are hilarious. He does more than just operate a hand puppet; he becomes Ulysses. The audience goes wild when he makes Ulysses fly around the stage and up into the audience like some kind of crazed kamikaze pilot.

Ryle as father George is absolutely hilarious, proving once again that he has the comic talent of a Charlie Chaplin or a Buster Keaton.

For children, for their parents, and maybe especially for 10-year-old kids, Flora & Ulysses is highly recommended.

FLORA & ULYSSES, 7 p.m., Friday; 2 p.m., Saturday-Sunday, through Feb. 17, $15-$20, Olympia Family Theater, 612 4th Ave. E., Olympia, 360.570.1638,

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