The Cerulean Time Capsule

And now for something completely different. The Kennedy Center, which always has a robust lineup of family shows, has partnered for the first time with the U.S. Botanic Garden on an interactive, site-specific play called The Cerulean Time Capsule. It’s set in and around the U.S. Botanic Garden and is a unique and fun way to explore the conservatory and learn about some of the plants housed there. Also, it’s free!

The Cerulean Time CapsuleThe half-hour play is geared to small groups, so the performance accommodates only 12 audience members at a time. (See below for how to get tickets.) The group meets in the West Gallery of the U.S. Botanic Garden, where a video on the Wilkes Expedition of 1838 is playing on a TV. I realized too late that we should have come a little earlier to see the entire video because it does give some useful background to the play.

The Wilkes Expedition, which explored throughout the Pacific, brought back a couple hundred live plant specimens, many of which formed the initial collection at the U.S. Botanic Garden. Only a few of those original plants survive today, over a hundred years later.

The play’s premise is that one of these surviving plants, the (fictional) Cerulean Time Capsule, has the potential to bring “catastrophe and destruction to the world as we know it.” It’s the audience’s role to help stop the discovery of this plant somewhere in the Garden. Our guide is a time-traveling botanist named Benjamin Peale who is from the year 2041.

It’s a bit of an intricate plot. I admit it was a bit hard to grasp the nuances of it. Particularly because the tour of the gardens was so fast-paced, and if you didn’t keep up you risked missing some of what Benjamin says.

The Cerulean Time CapsuleBenjamin zipped us up to the canopy walkway in the Tropics room, then to World Deserts, Hawaii, Medicinal Plants, Orchids, Mediterranean, and back to Tropics. Along the way he pointed out interesting plants like a tree whose cones hide ants that will attack anything that threatens the tree. He also singled out the real Wilkes plants, including an Eastern Cape blue cycad that is over 100 years old.

Benjamin was a hoot, and everyone loved his antic ways. He kept yelling, “Try not to draw attention to yourselves!” There’s also quite a bit of “botany humor,” as he called it. (Didn’t know that was a thing.) “This tour really succulents!” he griped at one point.

The play’s time-traveling theme is clever, as is the way it takes advantage of the Garden’s layout. The improvisational nature of the play adds to the fun. Even if they don’t get the plot, younger kids will enjoy the scavenger hunt throughout the Garden and the actors’ goofy humor.

I won’t spoil the mystery by revealing the ending, but just to say: it doesn’t disappoint. Also, every kid receives a magical little souvenir of the Cerulean Time Capsule at the end.

Despite its fast pace and potentially confusing, time-looping plot, The Cerulean Time Capsule provides an educational frolic through some amazing flora.


  • The Cerulean Time CapsuleThe production is performed nine shows per day on weekends from September 12 to October 25, 2015, as well as on Columbus Day, October 12. Due to its small-group nature, this performance can accommodate up to 12 audience members at one time. All youth participants must be accompanied by an adult.
  • Show times are 10:30, 11, and 11:30 a.m., and 12, 2, 2:30, 3, 3:30, and 4 p.m. The show lasts half an hour.
  • The show is free and there are two ways to get tickets. You can register free on-site the day of performance. Time slot availability will be on a first-come, first-served basis for the day of the event. Or you can reserve a specific date and time slot in advance for a nominal per-person fee. Cost is $1 for Friends and $2 for Non-members. Click here to reserve a specific time slot.
  • The site-specific play is a fast-moving tour through the Conservatory, but the 4 p.m. show each day will be performed at a slower pace.
  • The producers recommend the play for ages 7+, but there were younger kids on the tour I was on and they enjoyed the scavenger-hunt structure of the play.
  • There is metered street parking near the U.S. Botanic Gardens on Saturdays. Street parking is free on Sundays. The nearest Metro stop is Federal Center SW (Orange/Silver/Blue lines).
  • The Kennedy Center is also presenting a world premiere musical at the Botanic Garden called Flowers Stink. It runs September 23 to October 24, 2015 on the Amphitheater stage. The performance is free and runs 45 minutes. It’s recommended for ages 7+. For more information, visit the U.S. Botanic Garden website.

Photo Captions and Credit:

  • Photo One: Russell Sunday and Adi Stein in The Cerulean Time Capsule.
  • Photo Two: Adi Stein in The Cerulean Time Capsule.
  • Photo Three: Andrew Ross Wynn in The Cerulean Time Capsule.
  • Photos by Teresa Wood.
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