Enthralling ‘Off the Page’ by Arts on the Horizon is one for the books

This new nonverbal play for children 3 to 6 perfectly encapsulates how reading can make worlds come alive.

There is nothing that can transport me quite like a good book — except perhaps Arts on the Horizon’s latest world premiere, Off the Page. This new nonverbal play from writer-director Ryan Sellers, dramaturg Natalie Cutcher, and a dynamic team of clowns and creators at Arts on the Horizon is worth much more than the $10 price of admission.

Entering the black box at Theatre on the Run, we see a simple set designed by E-hui — a library where Reader (an absolutely brilliant Quincy Vicks) sits reading happily. There is a rope separating the throngs of children from the stage, and as the play begins, Reader communicates his feelings and expectations from the crowd through wordless but crystal-clear gestures. Together, the actor and audience take a deep breath, calming the over 30 excited students behind the rope.

Quincy Vicks as Reader and Joshua Cole Lucas as Quill in ‘Off the Page.’ Photo by Ryan Maxwell Photography.

As Reader picks up different books, he shows the audience pictures, completely enthralling the students. Suddenly, a book appears from behind the low blue sheets — the kids shout, “Behind you!” and Vicks responds in kind, grabbing the book and opening it as Quill (Joshua Cole Lucas), a pirate, pops out. Together, they look at the pictures of A Pirate’s Adventure, one of the detailed books made real by props designer Luke Hartwood.

Reader and Quill transform the stage into a pirate ship, using their bodies and our imaginations to explore the world of a pirate ship, including a treasure hunt (spoiler: the treasure is BOOKS!) and swabbing the deck. At one point, Quill gets overexcited and Reader helps him calm down with another deep breath — a repetitive theme that helped keep the kids mostly engaged for the first 20 minutes.

Against the background of Tori Tolentino’s bright and goofy sound design, Lucas and Vicks deliver stellar performances grounded in physical comedy and the magic of Sellers’ direction, which functioned more like choreography for much of the piece. As the library sets become the world of the Reader’s imagination, we go from the pirate ship to a baseball game to the rainforest and finally to the Arctic. Each setting has surprises and gorgeous props in store — each kid was completely immersed, to the point that when Quill hit a home run, many of the children turned around to see where the imaginary ball went.

In the rainforest, some incredible animal props await, though these become quite distracting for our younger audience — they ask to touch them, and in their excitement, there was some grabbing and maybe a little pushing. Though a nonverbal play, a reminder to students at the start of the play to stay seated when touching the animals may help mitigate some of these problems, which Vicks and Lucas handled well. They reminded the students to take deep breaths when excited, but as any educator will tell you, there are only so many reminders our kindergarten friends can process when there’s a real, live elephant prop in the room.

Joshua Cole Lucas as Quill and Quincy Vicks as Reader in ‘Off the Page.’ Photo by Ryan Maxwell Photography.

Baked into this play are valuable lessons about reading, trying again, calming our bodies, and using our imaginations with friends. It delivers these lessons with subtlety and, above all, laughter for kids and grownups alike. As an educator, I cannot recommend this play enough, especially for our students who are first starting to discover the world of reading.

Off the Page perfectly encapsulates how worlds can come alive when we read books. As Reader closes the book and Quill leaves, Vicks sits contemplatively, his face perfectly reflecting that bittersweet feeling of finishing a good book — or a good play. I felt that same bittersweetness as Off the Page wrapped up, grateful to have shared this space watching two versatile actors create new worlds for us all to play in.

Running Time: Approximately 30 minutes, no intermission.

Off the Page produced by Arts on the Horizon played April 5 to 7, 2024, at Theatre on the Run (3700 S. Four Mile Run Dr., Arlington, VA) and at The Lyceum (201 S. Washington St., Alexandria, VA) on April 20 and 21. Off the Page plays next at 1st Stage (1524 Spring Hill Road, Tysons, VA) on May 9 and 10 at 10:30 AM and on May 11 at 10 AM and 11:30 AM. Reserve tickets (free) online. For more information, go to the website.

The program for Off the Page, including cast and creative team credits and bios, is here.

Best for children ages 3 to 6 and their families.

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KJ Moran Velz
KJ Moran Velz is a New England–grown playwright, performer, and educator now based in Alexandria, Virginia. Her work has been performed at the Kennedy Center, Imagination Stage, Flying V, Rorschach Theatre, Adventure Theatre MTC, and Theater Alliance. She currently serves as Director of After School Programming at Educational Theatre Company, an organization that offers process-driven theater arts programming for students ages 3–103 in Northern Virginia. She studied Spanish and Theater and Performance Studies at Georgetown University, where she first fell in love with playwriting and her wife, director Aria Velz. When not in a theater, she enjoys spending time at home with her wife, dog, and two silly cats.


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