Kat Zukaitis and Marcus Beebe
A Classic Story Comes to the Stage
Cover art for The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams, first published in 1922
South Coast Repertory's final show of the Theatre for Young Audiences Series for 2018-19 is the beloved tale of The Velveteen Rabbit (May 24-June 9). Written in 1922 by Margery Williams, with illustrations by William Nicholson, the tale of the stuffed bunny toy became an instant and enduring part of family literature. If it's been awhile since you and your family read the book, here's a story refresher from SCR's literary staff.
The Velveteen Rabbit opens on Christmas morning, with the Velveteen Rabbit stuffed into a stocking as a gift for a young Boy. Velveteen is a beautiful brown and white spotted toy rabbit, with threaded whiskers, and ears lined with pink sateen. The Boy is excited when he sees the Velveteen Rabbit, but soon discards him to play with the other gifts he has received.
Once they are alone, the other toys come over to inspect the Velveteen Rabbit. They make fun of him for his simple, plain construction: he is soft and made of imitation velvet, isn’t built to scale and is stuffed with sawdust. That night, he meets the Skin Horse, who comforts the Velveteen Rabbit. The Skin Horse belonged to the Boy’s uncle, long ago, and is the oldest and wisest toy in the nursery. He tells the Rabbit not to pay attention to the other toys, for they will never become real. A toy only becomes real when a child loves them for a long time. They will become worn out in the process and it may hurt, but being real lasts forever. The Boy’s uncle made the Skin Horse real, and the Velveteen Rabbit wishes to become real someday.
The Boy’s caretaker, Nana, comes in to tidy up the nursery and put the Boy to bed. She cannot find the Boy’s favorite toy, a china dog, so the Boy picks the Velveteen Rabbit to sleep with instead. The Velveteen Rabbit does not like sleeping with the Boy at first, because the Boy holds him very tight, rolls over him, and buries him in under his pillow.
Soon, however, the Velveteen Rabbit grows to love the Boy’s company, for they go on epic adventures together: they imagine games in which they climb Mount Kilimanjaro, swim through the Nile and discover buried treasure. They tell each other secrets and snuggle together in the evenings. The other toys make fun of the Velveteen Rabbit for how shabby he has become, but he doesn’t care. The Boy loves him and tells him that he’s real.
One summer day, the Boy leaves the Velveteen Rabbit alone in the garden. Two rabbits pop out of the bushes and want to play with the Velveteen Rabbit, but they notice something different about him. He looks like the rabbits, but he can’t move or play like them, even though he wants to. The rabbits say he isn’t real and run away. Velveteen is left alone for a bit until Boy comes back to take him home.
As the weeks pass, the Velveteen Rabbit grows shabbier and shabbier, but the Boy loves him more and more. When Nana tries to throw out the Velveteen Rabbit along with the Boy’s other old toys, the Boy fights to keep him.
One day, the Boy grows very sick with scarlet fever, a serious illness. The Velveteen Rabbit keeps the Boy company during his illness and tries to cheer him up and keep him cool. When the Boy finally begins to recover, they overhear Nana and the Doctor planning a trip to the seaside with the Boy—but they also overhear the Doctor’s instructions to burn all of the Boy’s toys, which have been infected with scarlet fever. The Boy tries to hide the Velveteen Rabbit, but Nana discovers him buried in the bed sheets, and gives him to the Gardener to be burned the next morning along with the rubbish.
When the Boy gets ready for bed that evening, he asks Nana to bring him his old rabbit. She explains that the Velveteen Rabbit is infected and can’t come back, and tells the Boy that he needs to let him go. She gives the Boy a new stuffed rabbit to sleep with that night. Meanwhile, waiting on the rubbish pile to be burned, the Velveteen Rabbit remembers his days with the Boy and the Skin Horse and cries a single tear.
From the Velveteen Rabbit’s tear, a flower blossoms and a fairy pops out. The fairy tells the Velveteen Rabbit that she takes care of all the toys that children have loved but don’t need anymore. She explains that she will make the Velveteen Rabbit real: he was already real to the Boy, because he loved him, but now he will be real to the whole world. She takes the Velveteen Rabbit into the woods where, he discovers, to his delight, that he has real hind legs, and can run and jump! He runs off to find a new home with the other rabbits.
The next spring, the Boy is playing outside and sees a rabbit that looks familiar. He does not realize that it is indeed his own Velveteen Rabbit, who has come back to look at the child that helped him to become real.