New York Times Review of THE JUNGLE BOOK

Family Fare

By LAUREL GRAEBER

The Hunter and the Hunted

The young hero of the New Acting Company’s latest production worries that he doesn’t fit in with his peers or his parents. This may sound like the typical estrangement of a preadolescent who feels that those around him are a different species. But this is Mowgli, the boy of ”The Jungle Book,” and his fellows really are of different species — namely a bear, a panther and a pack of wolves. Monica Flory’s script is both scrupulously faithful to Rudyard Kipling and completely original in its approach. While Kipling’s story is basically a grand adventure, this version takes its subtext — a boy’s quest for identity — and makes it the heart of the piece. It includes all the book’s action and even some of its dialogue, but increases the emotional resonance. The only substantive change is the more hopeful ending. Gregg Bellon, the set designer, has created a vibrant, wild world, augmented by elaborate puppets. Of course, the realism also depends on the talented cast, led by 13-year-old Malik Conard Sow as Mowgli. It also includes Carrie Heitman as the regal panther Bagheera; Stephen Michael Rondel as Baloo, the avuncular bear; Jay Duffer as the treacherous jackal Tabaquai; Christopher L. McAllister I as the vengeful tiger Shere Khan; and Heather Massie as both Kaa, the imposing python, and Raksha, the mother wolf. In Oana Botez-Ban’s ingenious costumes, these actors may be the most convincing stage animals south of ”The Lion King.” Directed by David A. Miller, with incidental music by Lucian Ban, this 75-minute ”Jungle Book” will easily appeal to theatergoers over 6. When young wolves ask Mowgli, ”Where’s your fur?” and ”Don’t you miss having a tail?,” the tone will be familiar. The schoolyard is a jungle, too. ”The Jungle Book,” tonight at 7, tomorrow at 2 and 7 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Greenwich Village Center, 219 Sullivan Street, near West Third Street, (212)868-4444. Tickets: $15.

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