Oregon Children’s Theatre’s production of the picture book, “Me… Jane” is a sweet ode to the one and only Jane Goodall. A west coast premiere, Aida Valentine portrays a young Jane Goodall exploring her backyard with her stuffed chimp Jubilee, but dreaming of living in Africa one day. Those familiar with the book will recognize the whimsical trees and flowers that fill the stage, especially Jane’s favorite tree, “Beech.” Playwright Aaron Posner transforms the little book into a full production, keeping the simplicity and innocence intact.
The opening song “Animals”presents fun and funny facts about animals. Did you know that koalas don’t drink and giraffes can lick their ears? It also introduces one of the play’s main themes, declaring that, “Everyone has worth, aren’t we lucky we get to share this earth?”
Jane’s mother (Hillary Hoover) narrates as Jane deals with her negative neighbors, the Crouches. They tell her to be realistic and to stop pretending, but her mother reminds her that “dreams take doing”and anything is possible if you hold onto your dream. Yet, she reminds Jane that she still must work hard since,“tomorrow is too late, what are you going to do today? Will you be what’s happening?”This song sets up the major theme of encouraging girls to set their goals as high as they wish! Each time the Crouches appear, Jane defends her dreams and turns to her mother for support.
Throughout the play, Jane talks with the chickens, squirrels, and her dog Rusty just as Dr. Dolittle would, to understand their feelings and goals. She follows her instincts and learns to ignore nay-sayers or any “expert” who tells her to do things “the right way.”
In the final number, pictures of the real Jane appear along with other female pioneers. Valentine’s voice is spot on as she sings about being able to hear Africa as though she is already there.
Ultimately, every child and adult can relate to Jane, from carrying her favorite stuffed animal everywhere, to the journals she wrote in, to her wonder at the mysteries of the world, and especially her love for animals. I agree with director Marcella Crowson: your child will thank you for bringing them to the theatre!
“Me . . . Jane” plays now through November 17 at Newmark Theatre in Portland. Find showtimes and ticket prices here.