A Single Shard at Seattle Children's Theatre begins with a rumpled pile of white cloth, spotlighted in the middle of the stage. The pile begins moving and unfolds into a dancer wearing white, with long—maybe 10-foot—sleeves shooting out, undulating, and pirouetting as he spins around the stage. It's a fantastic start, based on an old Korean folk dance, although the rest of Shard doesn't quite fulfill the promise of its opening image.
Adapted from an award-winning children's novel and directed by SCT artistic director Linda Hartzell, Shard is set in a 12th-century Korean village famous for its celadon pottery, the jade-green glazed ceramics that were, for centuries, among the most revered artworks in Korea and China. A young orphan goes to work for a master potter, eventually embarking on an epic journey to bring his master's work to an emissary of the king, who will decide if it deserves a royal commission. The actor playing the master potter, Scott Koh, described the orphan's journey in a post-play discussion as "like walking [from Seattle] to Portland. And maybe getting robbed in Tacoma."
Carey Wong's sets are beautiful, ranging from enormous painted screens to an intricate, multicolored palace gate. The best trick comes when a character tells the story of the famous Rock of Falling Flowers. During a lengthy battle, when Korean troops were outnumbered by Chinese forces and looked sure to lose, thousands of royal concubines leaped to their deaths rather than risk capture. As he talks about the image of their dresses fanning out as they fell, like many-colored flowers, 20-foot bolts of silk swirl down, seemingly in slow motion, from above the stage. It's completely mesmerizing, a sight one could watch for hours. (After the show, a child asked if they were lights or smoke or some special effect.) As for the rest of Shard: It's a competent piece of historical fiction—with some overdone acting and a few bangs of technical inventiveness—that kept a roomful of children rapt and silent. Not worthy of a royal commission, but an impressive feat nonetheless.