One fine day, author A. A. Milne tells us, Winnie the Pooh stumped up to the top of the Hundred Acre Wood and found Christopher Robin outside his door, putting on his Big Boots. The moment he saw the Big Boots, "Pooh knew that an Adventure was going to happen," and "spruced himself up as well as he could, so as to look Ready for Anything."
Being "Ready for Anything" is much the best frame of mind for checking in to the Low Tide Hotel. This delightful entertainment, staged in cozy quarters at the American Theater, requires only that you recognize Big Boots when you see them. Be prepared to recall a childhood afternoon when a fallen tree branch could become a pirate's sabre, a wizard's wand, or Robin Hood's bow, and an old bed sheet might plump out as the sail of a Viking ship, a masked crusader's cape, or the walls of your tent in a steaming jungle.
Low Tide Hotel bills itself as a whimsical voyage, but, in fact, it has only one port of call — the furrowed, gray engine of wonder between your ears that likely hasn't enjoyed this much exercise in ages.
It's telling that in yet another season of big-budget adventure films and extravagantly staged theatrical works, an entirely satisfying "expotition" can be embarked upon with so little excess baggage. Low Tide's cast — Mark Jaster, Sabrina Mandell, and Scott Sedar — create dream-like vignettes with nothing more fussy than dialogue, poetry, song, clever sound effects, and costume changes.
As effortlessly as a packet steamer outward bound on a calm ocean, Low Tide bobs through a kaleidoscope of moods. A song follows a monologue. A gleeful synchronized swimming pantomime follows an ensemble sketch. The nautical theme and the golden-age-of-travel feel extends even to the musical numbers: "My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean," is unforgettably quirky played on a musical saw.
What emerges from all this is an unfettered sense of delight. And a revelation, too.
As long ago as the 19th century, poet William Wordsworth called out our society's infatuation with whiz-bang technology for creating a sordid world that is "too much with us." He admonished that "we have given our hearts away" too easily, too willingly, and for too little in return.
But Low Tide is a powerful restorative: put on a different hat, become an entirely new being. It's a good-natured prod at the explicit, tell-all world we live in. A gentle reminder that we might still conjure up space ships out of cardboard boxes, if we give our battered psyches a little breathing space.
For all its playfulness, Low Tide is a surreal cocktail, like absinthe for the parched imagination of its intended adult audience. But its off-kilter charm is deep and instinctual enough to serve a wider age range. Parents who secretly enjoyed the likes of Pee Wee's Playhouse alongside their children will instantly recognize the appeal.
In the audience on opening night, a family sat together at the back of the room: Mom, Dad, and three kids under the age of 10. TV kids, game console kids, kids who in short order will be learning the abrupt, abbreviated dialect used for mobile phone texting. In due course, our world will have knocked the natural ease and invention out of them, inducted them into a reality that leaves almost nothing to the imagination. But on this night, for this little while and like everyone else in the theater, they got to tug on the Big Boots and all they could manage to say was, "Oh!"
Low Tide Hotel Piccolo Fringe $15 50 min. May 27, 29 at 8 p.m., May 26 at 7 p.m., May 30 at 8:30 p.m. Stars at the American Theater, 446 King St. (888) 374-2656