A talent takes wing

Anwatin sixth-grader Nathan Barlow stars in "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings"

The Children's Theatre Company's world premiere production of "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings" has an international cast of actors, a Cuban playwright and a Caribbean theme -- but at least one actor, Nathan Barlow has long held Southwest connections.

The 11-year-old Barlow, a sixth-grader at Anwatin Middle School, began acting in third grade as a kitten and has since graduated to very human roles at the largest theaters in Minneapolis. He's played roles in Children's Theatre, Guthrie Theater and Steppingstone Theatre productions. With each year that he performs, he lands bigger parts.

"A Very Old Man" is Barlow's seventh professional theatre production. The play is an adaptation of a dreary Gabriel Garcia Marquez short story, which was written for children; however, it's likely that children will like playwright Nilo Cruz's version much better.

Barlow plays a young boy who, along with his older sister (Sonja Parks), finds an old man with failing large white wings in their backyard.

Determined by another villager to be an angel, the poor family puts the old man in a cage and charges admission. But the angel's health deteriorates, and the two children decide to nurse him back to health, building up his strength so he can fly home.

Amid the bright costumes of villagers and musicians, it's Barlow and Parks who draw the attention of the audience. Barlow has an earnest face, and his character has an exuberant can-do attitude, much like his own personality. "It's part of Nathan's charm," said Parks. "He lends himself to whatever role he plays. He's an earnest Minnesotan and he lends himself to the passion of the people. He combines both those worlds."

As for Nathan, he's sure of his career as an actor. The sixth grader plans to be on Broadway, in Hollywood and anywhere they'll let him. He said kids at school often ask him how he gets into the plays. " I tell them all about the audition process, and I tell them a good tip is to smile a lot," said Barlow.

Barlow, the only child in a lead role, said the adult actors were fun to work with. Parks, in her early 30s, easily plays a 14-year-old girl: "Sonja teased me a lot, she's really funny," said Barlow.

Parks said the chemistry between her and Barlow started during his audition "We clicked immediately. He's very open and willing to do whatever we asked in the audition. I really felt like he was my little brother," she said.

Though Barlow frequently misses school for day rehearsals and performances, his parents said his homework comes first and he knows it. "He knows that the moment his studies slip he'll be out of plays. So he's very on top of it," said Edward Barlow, a music teacher in the Minneapolis Public Schools.

As a performing family with siblings in the performing arts, the Barlows say that managing their schedule and driving to practice isn't too bad "We feel lucky we don't have 5 a.m. hockey practice ice time," said Edward Barlow.

Though Rebecca Barlow said it's grueling to keep up with his schedule, plus one other child in performances, she finds "joy and amazement," when she sees Nathan perform.

Parks, an actress who has worked with many child actors, said he's good and can only get better. "Nathan teaches me to be a better actor. He plays each performance differently, but totally natural. It's hard for me to fall into a rote pattern because he never does it the same way twice,." said Parks.