LOS ANGELES — Forget the tower and the long hair and the lonely princess in the window.

Rapunzel Alone” is not that Rapunzel, although it is still a story about isolation. In fact, with projections used in place of props, set pieces and sometimes people, the stage itself is so sparsely populated that one can feel the loneliness from their seat.

What You Need To Know

  • "Rapunzel Alone" reimagines the story in war-torn England in 1944

  • The story explores themes of isolation, war and family separation

  • Rapunzel Alone runs at the Wallis March 12-19

  • It then returns to 24th Street Theatre, where it plays through April 10

Debbie Devine, artistic director of 24th Street Theatre, commissioned British playwright Mike Kenny to adapt the story, setting it not once upon a time in a kingdom far away, but rather in a farmhouse in England in the not-so-distant past of 1944.

"When England was evacuating young people to protect them from the war, and it’s now resonating more than ever because of Ukraine," said Devine.

It’s also resonating more than ever because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But neither of these issues existed when Devine first commissioned the play. What she wanted to address was isolation, specifically the isolation she says teenagers were experiencing because of social media.

“And there was just a lot of suicide. A lot of mental health issues,” she said.

War, isolation, mental health — this hardly sounds like traditional children’s theater fare and that’s no accident. Devine is one founder of the company that began 25 years ago in a 1928 carriage house near USC and the edge of West Adams. They originally intended it to be a regular theater company, but when neighborhood kids wandered over to ask what they were up to, that answer drew blank stares.

“Plays, we do plays,” Devine remembers telling them. “And they didn’t know what a play was, so we knew we needed to do that foundational work, which is arts education.”

Community is a huge part of what they do. They have teenage mentoring and after-school programs, “which we call After Cool because we’re that hip,” Devine said with a laugh.

They take their performances to schools and, of course, produce them at the theater, where they always have Spanish supertitles.

“They want it to be a theater that’s open and accessible to the community,” said actor Tara Cox, who is also a substitute teacher and a firm believer in using arts to educate.  

Although the themes can be heavy, she says it’s nothing a young audience won’t understand, especially now.

“Kids are going to recognize the word lockdown and that we’re doing these things to keep safe,” she said. “We all had to really grapple with extreme isolation, so that’s one of the big themes.”

It’s also just a chance to get small eyes away from screens for an hour and push the audience to use their imaginations. And there’s a puppet goose named Gertrude who Cox says is “the real star of the show.”

Devine says that presenting sophisticated theater for families keeps the parents and grandparents engaged while helping prepare the children to navigate their own emotions.  

“Our whole concept about family theater is that you have to reach up,” she explained.

And reach out. This year, for the first time, they will present a play not just in their home theater, but also at the Wallis Center for Performing Arts, introducing their unique style of theater to a brand new audience.

It’s been a quarter of a century since those first neighborhood kids came peeking in. Devine has watched those curious kids grow into adults with children of their own, children they bring to the carriage house turned theater. They now know what a play is, but has she changed their lives?

“I would hope so,” she said with a quiet smile. “They’ve certainly changed ours.”

It's a storybook ending indeed.

“Rapunzel Alone” runs at the Wallis March 12-19. It then returns to 24th Street Theatre, where it will play through April 10.