Love and Loss: Growing up with the Velveteen Rabbit

Kathryn Zukaitis
 | May 21, 2019

Velveteen Rabbit Logo

My Own Velveteen Rabbit

Katherine and Nana

Kathryn & Nina’s school photo, 1989

Shortly before I was born, my grandmother sent a stuffed Peter Rabbit across the country—my very first birthday present. Once I learned to crawl, I would scoot unerringly toward this rabbit, which I called Nina (“Peter Rabbit” being much too difficult to pronounce). We were soon inseparable and I brought Nina to preschool with me every day. To their credit, my teachers decided to work with, rather than against, my attachment; we developed a ritual in which the whole class would help place Nina in my backpack at the end of each school day, making me feel like one very cool kindergartener. Nina eventually stopped attending school but continued to have many adventures and even spent one rather scary night lost in a mall in Omaha. Like the Velveteen Rabbit, Nina has shed some fur over the years and was even partially decapitated at one point—don’t worry, Mom sewed her head back on—but has always been well loved. To date, Nina has lived in seven states and four countries and currently resides in Santa Ana, California.

Kat and Nina

Kathryn & Nina, 2019

“There was once a velveteen rabbit.

“In the beginning he was really splendid. He was fat and bunchy, as a rabbit should be; his coat was spotted brown and white, he had real thread whiskers, and his ears were lined with pink sateen. On Christmas morning, when he sat wedged in the top of the Boy’s stocking, with a sprig of holly between his paws, the effect was charming.”

So begins the beloved children’s classic by Margery Williams. When the Velveteen Rabbit first arrives in the nursery, the Boy ignores him and the other toys mock his simple construction: he has none of the wind-up machinery or poseable joints that characterize the top-of-the-line playthings in 1922. Only one other toy shows him any kindness: the Skin Horse.

The Skin Horse is old and worn, but he knows a truth that the other toys don’t: when a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real. This secret both intrigues and scares the Velveteen Rabbit, for being loved by a child seems to involve a lot of being sat on or left out in the garden overnight. But when the Boy chooses the Velveteen Rabbit as his new favorite toy, there is no looking back.

Velveteen Rabbit

The Boy and the Velveteen Rabbit become inseparable. They embark on a series of fantastic adventures throughout the nursery and garden, and they grow older together. The Velveteen Rabbit is by now quite worn and shabby—and he couldn’t care less. He’s discovered the power of loving and being loved. He has become Real.

Then the world changes. Scarlet fever strikes and the Boy’s life hangs in the balance. The Velveteen Rabbit stays faithfully at the Boy’s side throughout, whispering encouragement and waiting impatiently for things to return to the way they were before. But when the Boy’s fever finally breaks, the doctor decrees that all of the child’s belongings must be burnt—especially his germ-filled rabbit. Alone on the trash pile, the Velveteen Rabbit wonders if there was any point in learning how to love, if it all ends like this.

Parents, don’t fear: the Velveteen Rabbit will survive the trash pile—and with a little help from nursery magic, will discover how the transformation wrought by love has prepared him for a whole new reality.

Playwright Janet Allard’s adaptation hews close to the classic children’s book, bringing the Velveteen Rabbit’s fun-filled relationships with the Boy and the other toys to glorious life. For director Beth Lopes, who also helmed last season’s hilarious Junie B. Jones Is Not a Crook, this tale has a twofold message. The first part celebrates the enduring bond between a lonely child and an ordinary toy: together, they learn to harness the power of imagination and build a world of excitement and secrets to share. The second part of the story, though, teaches us that real love demands more than just shared adventures—sometimes it also means learning how to let go. For Lopes, a true celebration of childhood honors both the wonder and the sadness inherent in growing up.

The result is a beautiful, bittersweet production, supported throughout by original music from Ears Up Sound Design (Matt Caspary and Mark Glenn). Kathryn Wilson’s delightful period costumes transport viewers back to the 1920s and transform actors into wind-up ballerinas, model airplanes, joined wooden lions—and even humans. Keith Mitchell’s storybook sets and Karyn D. Lawrence’s delicate lighting complete the onstage world; and Kathryn Davies, a veteran SCR stage manager, rounds out the creative team.

Lopes has assembled a talented cast to inhabit this enchanting world of toys. Amielynn Abellera makes her SCR debut in the title role; Ricky Abilez, who appeared in last season’s Shakespeare in Love plays the Boy; Joseph Abrego, Paul Culos, Nicole Erb (who all three appeared in Junie B. Jones Is Not a Crook), Nicole Cowans (Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed) and Carina Morales (Amos and Boris), return to the SCR stage to portray the toys, rabbits, fairies and humans that make up this wonder-filled world. Read more about the cast.

With its resonant message of love and loss and its design that celebrates the nostalgia and exuberance of childhood, South Coast Repertory’s production of The Velveteen Rabbit promises to delight both longstanding fans of the classic story and those who are meeting the Rabbit and his Boy for the first time.

Learn more about The Velveteen Rabbit and buy tickets.