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The Borrowers from Childsplay: Cuteness and Fantasy with Just a Little Fun Violence

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It's so freaking cool when someone adapts a classic book or story for the stage and gets everything right while also helping the literature grow into a captivating multisensory experience.

British writer Charles Way has accomplished this feat with The Borrowers, based on the first two of Mary Norton's series of children's books about tiny people who live in hiding and subsist on what human "beans" won't miss.

The same loving care and creativity are evident in the designs and performances in the current Childsplay production of the play. Even the grownups in the audience were enraptured by the fantastical wonders, and if you remember the stories as kind of girly and twee, you're forgetting about Spiller, the field borrower, shooting a giant (to him) mouse with an arrow. Someone -- perhaps costumer and puppeteer Rebecca Akins -- has made a heavy, floppy, furry mouse corpse that's extremely believable.

One of the great things about The Borrowers is that they're sort of like mildly mischievous fairies or friendly ghosts: There's no reason for children to fear them, and there's no concrete evidence that they aren't in your house somewhere, craftily scurrying out of sight when they're in danger of being discovered. This makes them super-fun to think about, and it's also fun to see the adult human characters, who don't believe in such things, assume that they're hallucinating from a bit too much sherry or something.

Scheduled just in time to celebrate the end of school (or, if your kids are still in school, to celebrate that, I guess), this production features three of Childsplay's most beloved veteran actors, Jon Gentry, Debra K. Stevens, and Katie McFadzen. Gentry and Stevens play Pod and Homily Clock, a married couple of middle-aged borrowers who face frightening challenges as their daughter, Arrietty, approaches adulthood and independence.

Gentry strikes a masterful balance as a mild-mannered man who matter-of-factly does whatever it takes to care for his little family, and Stevens' Homily is a vain yet hard-working drama queen with a heart of gold and a spine of steel. It's kind of a law of fiction that characters have to grow and change, one way or another, but it takes great actors to make that noticeable and credible at the same time, all within a couple of hours.

McFadzen, who plays the frosty and meticulous human Mrs. Driver, is reliably funny and fascinating to watch. Her mere footfalls (whether amplified to borrower-hearing volume or not) were enough to make the audience squirm in gleeful anticipation of her next comeuppance.

The rest of the cast, while somewhat newer to the company, are also simply amazing. Rock Paper Scissors' David Dickinson is back in three distinct and charming roles, Ricky Araiza is adorably sincere as the human boy who champions the Clock family after inadvertently endangering them, and Michelle Cunneen is fresh and spunky as Arrietty, the character with whom kids tend to identify.

The Borrowers continues through Sunday, May 22, at Tempe Center for the Arts, 700 West Rio Salado Parkway. For tickets, $20 to $25, click here or call 480-350-2822.

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