When Cicilia Sedvall first came to the United States from Sweden to take part in a cultural exchange with the New York State Theatre Institute, she was able to lean on other actors to help overcome her unfamiliarity with English.
There were people all around me, she said. `My lines were in answer to something.`
There’s no such safety net now, as Sedvall is alone on stage for NYSTI’s latest production, `Letters from a Window in the Sky.`
`It’s very much fun, but the thing that is difficult is that it is not my language,` she said.
The play by NYSTI guest artist Mary Jane Hansen is about a young girl named Cicilia — written with Sedvall in mind — who is home bored one day and is inspired by a Pippi Longstocking book. The show coincides with the 100th anniversary of the birth of `Pippi` author Astrid Lindgren, who is something of a hero to Sedvall and fellow Swedes.
`She’s like holy in Sweden,` Sedvall said.
She’s thrilled to be taking part in a show commemorating Lindgren’s birth, but even more so to be doing it outside her own country.
`I’m so proud to be doing it here,` she said. `You know ‘Pippi,’ but you don’t necessarily know all the other books. I’m so proud to have the opportunity to spread her name out.`
Sedvall, whose favorite Lindgren book is probably `The Children of Noisy Village` and not any of the books about the orphaned, pig-tailed Pippi, said the attraction in Lindgren’s books is that she treats children like `small-sized people.`
`She doesn’t look at children and see children,` she said. `She tells us, ‘Don’t forget about the kid in you.’`
That theme resonates in `Letters from a Window in the Sky.` Restless on a rainy day, Cicilia pulls out a Pippi Longstocking book, but she soon puts it aside, thinking she’s too old for it. She’s feeling trapped and friendless.
`She’s different, and she doesn’t want to be,` Sedvall said.
Then Cicilia’s guitar starts to talk to her, urging her to go to a nearby lake. There, Cicilia rescues a duck, marking the only time Sedvall shares the stage (a robotic duck is voiced by NYSTI company member David Bunce). The duck rescue, incidentally, was based on a real Sedvall experience.
The duck, dubbed Mr. Magnus Nilsson, takes Cicilia on a fantastic journey, during which her self-esteem gets a big boost.
`She discovers she doesn’t want to be anyone else,` Sedvall said. `She wants to be herself. That’s good enough.`
The play has plenty of silliness for kids — it opens with Sedvall hanging upside down on a jungle gym — but Sedvall and NYSTI publicist Sarah Howes said it will appeal to grown-ups as well.
`There are a lot of things that address adults,` Sedvall said. `The kids will be laughing, and the adults will be laughing, too, but in a different way.`
Howes, who noted the audience can sing along with plenty of musical numbers, said NYSTI has done a couple of other one-person plays and is excited for this one to kick off.
`It’s fun to see how it all comes together,` she said.
Recommended for ages 6 and older, `Letters from a Window in the Sky` runs through June 20, after which Sedvall will return to Sweden and her post with Teater Vastmanland. The play will be put on at the James L. Meader Little Theater on the Russell Sage Campus in Troy, with no shows over the Memorial Day weekend. Visit www.nysti.org for tickets or call the box office at 274-3256.“